The political scene in West Africa showed improvement last year with elections in Liberia, where a 14-year civil war had spread refugees and violence to surrounding countries. But tensions continued in Ivory Coast, which remains divided between the rebel-held north and government-controlled south.
Economic, political and even environmental and climate-related issues like flooding have contributed to population movements in the region.
Over 900 thousand people in West Africa are internally displaced. Many countries also are host to a substantial number of refugees: The Gambia is has about 6,500 people fleeing violence in Senegal’s southern Casamance region. And Senegal itself has more than 20,000 refugees and 64,000 internally displaced.
The population movements have led to malnourishment and increased vulnerability to diseases like yellow fever, meningitis, and cholera. UN official Maya Siblini says humanitarian efforts are focused on dealing with outbreaks that occur mainly in the rainy season, when the effects can be more deadly. “For example, cholera outbreaks in 2005/2006 resulted in more than 700 deaths; every year 10,000 to 20,000 people are affected by meningitis, mainly children under five years old.”
Siblini is the spokeswoman for the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Dakar, Senegal.
In another health-related issue, she says more than 300,000 children die each year from malnutrition: “Food could be available in the market but people, mainly for economic reasons, do not have the means to access food.”
She says UN humanitarian agencies are asking donors for $309 million over the next 12 months to help provide relief to all of West Africa, with a separate appeal of $56 million for Ivory Coast alone.
Siblini says, “There are 65 projects covering food security and nutrition in the Sahel, and rapid response to health crises because West Africa and Africa as a whole is very prone to epidemics. A third sector is protection of population movements ensuring that human rights for refugees and internally displaced people.”
She said the appeals “give you a global overview, a global assessment of needs and above all, it allows coordination…. It remains the best way [of providing] humanitarian assistance and not [only] hope.”