Cote d’Ivoire: Humanitarian challenges in a country in transition

18 Sep 2013

July 2013, Korogho, Cote d'Ivoire: Eighteen-month-old Ibrahim at the nutrition center run by the Red Cross in Korogho, in the Savanes region of northern Cote d'Ivoire. About 40 per cent of all children are believed to be chronically malnourished, and many rely on support from clinics like this. Credit: OCHA/Jean-Bosco Liade
A lack of funding in northern of Cote d’Ivoire has forced many humanitarian organizations to close their operations, leaving vulnerable communities reliant on a few overwhelmed agencies for support.

Savanes in northern Cote d’Ivoire is an arid part of the world. It sits on the southern fringe of West Africa’s Sahel region, and people there face many of the stresses that communities in Sahel countries deal with. They regularly endure extended periods of draught, high food prices, food products diverted to foreign markets, food insecurity and malnutrition.

In the town of Korhogo, one woman has devoted many years to supporting mothers and children affected by these concurrent and consistent crises. Koné Sali runs a Red Cross Therapeutic Nutrition Centre that treats chronic, moderate or severely malnourished children under five years of age.

However, in 2012 almost all of the UN agencies and international NGOs that were present in Savanes left, citing a lack of funding. Ms Sali is now on her own, struggling to mobilize sufficient resources to keep the center running.

“(There are) no more financial partners, no more therapeutic milk and medication, no care for little patients with HIV/AIDS. I need to be able to provide a full treatment package, but I have to settle with the little I have, every day again,” she says.

Massita and her son

Massita, 41, came to the center three weeks ago with her 18 month old little boy, Soro Ibrahima. She lives in one of Korhogo’s neighbourhoods and her husband is unemployed. She survives on very little.

“At one point Soro was ill all the time, refused to eat and started losing weight. I got very concerned, as I can’t afford any hospitals”, she starts explaining. “Now, after several weeks at the (nutrition centre), he is eating again and looks healthier”.

Massita is still very worried. She is expected to report to the centre every morning with Soro but she has no money and no means to feed herself during her stay or provide for Soro’s needs in addition to the therapeutic milk that he gets from the Center.

“This morning I had to borrow 500 Francs (US$1) from my neighbour, but I don’t know if I will be able to get any money tomorrow,” she says. “I’m exhausted and weak. If only the center could take care of us mothers as well, provide some type of food assistance. Then it wouldn’t be so difficult for us”.

“Humanitarian needs do not disappear overnight”

Massita’s story is a familiar one in a country where about 40 per cent of young children are believed to be chronically malnourished, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Ministry of Health. Humanitarian needs remain significant in Cote d’Ivoire but many aid agencies are forced to downscale their interventions due to a lack of financial support by donors.

“Cote d’Ivoire may in fact be in transition, but humanitarian needs do not disappear overnight,” said Ute Kollies, the Head of OCHA’s Office in Côte d’Ivoire. “Humanitarian agencies need continued and focused support in order to address remaining residual needs.”

“This is essential to ensure a successful transition to early recovery, development and economic prosperity.

The Red Cross’ Koné Sali agrees. “Consider this message as a cry from the heart directed to the institutions that have the means to help.”