The HC Interview: Côte d’Ivoire

6 December, 2011
Ndolamb Ngokwey handing out a blanket and mat to a woman in Guiglo Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp, June 2011. Credit: OCHA
Ndolamb Ngokwey handing out a blanket and mat to a woman in Guiglo Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp, June 2011. Credit: OCHA

Ndolamb Ngokwey has been the Humanitarian Coordinator in Côte d’Ivoire since July 2010 and has served with the United Nations since 1986 - most recently as Resident Coordinator/UNDP Resident Representative in Mozambique. He also held many senior posts in UNICEF, including Deputy Regional Director in Abidjan, Area Representative in Barbados, Country Representative in Guinea and Deputy Representative in Senegal and Benin.

Q: Six months after electoral violence devastated so many communities in Côte d’Ivoire, is life returning to normal? How can humanitarian agencies help – and what difficulties do they face?

A: I must say that six months after this crisis, the situation in the country is significantly more stable. In some areas of the West and South, however, tensions remain high and armed attacks against civilians have continued. In spite of these relative improvements, the challenges faced by the Government remain important - among them humanitarian assistance to those most vulnerable, including the protection of civilians, and permitting internally displaced persons and refugees to voluntarily return home safely and securely.

Currently, humanitarian actors are assisting by providing return packages for a voluntary return of displaced persons (either displaced or refugees) to their areas of origin. This works in conjunction with early recovery related activities in host communities, in terms of housing and basic social services.

Q: Many people fled the crisis, but are now starting to return to their homes. What new challenges do they face? And how can we help people who are still displaced get back to normal life?

A: During the crisis, we estimate that 700,000 people left their homes and approximately 200,000 left the country. The majority of these people have taken refuge in host communities, and others in public schools, churches or camps. As of today, it is estimated that over 550,000 people have already returned to their homes.

Yet there are still more than 170,000 Ivorian refugees in neighboring countries, mainly in Liberia, and thousands of people still displaced within the country, mainly in the West. Returnees experience difficulties in getting their lives re-started. In many areas, social services are still not functioning. Agricultural and economic inputs needed to enable people to restart their livelihoods are still more expensive than before and can be difficult to access.

The Ivorian government is increasing its efforts to assist and encourage people to return to their homes. A tripartite agreement has been signed with the government of Liberia and UNHCR to assist Ivorian refugees in Liberia to return to Côte d’Ivoire. Furthermore, a strategic framework has been developed between the government and the humanitarian community in Côte d’Ivoire to assist internally displaced people to return to their villages of origin.

Q: Many parts of the country experienced security challenges both during the crisis and in some areas still today. How do you deal with providing assistance to these areas? How will returnees feel safe in their own homes again?

A: Yes indeed, we faced very serious security and access problems during the peak of the post electoral crisis. Humanitarian actors managed however to address most of the urgent needs. As security conditions improved, they could deploy in the most affected areas to assess the needs and provide assistance. During the peak of the crisis in March, US$10m was secured from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) in order to provide life saving assistance.

Today, although there have been improvements, the humanitarian situation in the  western part of the country remains very fragile, due a number of factors - the most important being that many areas remain unsecure. The government has started to deploy police forces and elements of the gendarmerie, but this remains insufficient to ensure a safe environment for the local communities. This hampers the return of IDPs (internally displaced persons) and refugees.

Q:  You are working closely with the government to bring more attention to the continuing humanitarian crisis. Is the outside world paying enough attention? What is needed to win their support?

A: Unfortunately, funding needs have not been met. As of 17 October, the Emergency Humanitarian Action Plan (EHAP) for Côte d’Ivoire and neighboring countries affected by the crisis is funded at 34 per cent (total requirement of US$ 292 million). This has resulted in projects being reduced and even cancelled.

With this in mind, I decided to organize jointly with Mr. Gilbert Kafana Kone, State Minister, Minister of Employment, Social Affairs and Solidarity, a European tour from 17th -21st of October to London, Paris, Brussels and Geneva. Its aim was to sensitize the donors on the humanitarian challenges in Côte d’Ivoire, and the need to get additional funding this year and throughout 2012.

Donors expressed their readiness to support the Ivorian authorities to keep the humanitarian situation in Cote d’Ivoire on the international agenda. The Ministry of Employment, Social affairs and Solidarity established a humanitarian coordination committee in order to further enhance the coordination and synergies between the Government, humanitarian actors and donors.