The Red Cross says 30,000 refugees from Ivory Coast's political crisis are straining water and sanitation facilities across the border in Liberia.
Most of the Ivorian refugees are living with Liberian families in Nimba County where an already-underdeveloped infrastructure weakened by a previous civil waris unable to meet their long-term needs.
"This area of Liberia already suffered from residual humanitarian needs that are still in fact linked to 14 years of civil conflict,” said Karin Hofmann, who heads the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation in Liberia. “So the population that live there already face a difficult situation. Now it is clear that with 30,000 refugees adding to the situation, living with the host communities, depending on the support of them, the situation could potentially get out of hand quite easily."
Refugees are fleeing the political crisis between Ivory Coast's incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo, and the United-Nations-certified winner of November's presidential election, former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara.
UNICEF spokesman Chris Tidey says more than 85 percent of the refugees are women and children.
"In terms of the most urgent needs for children, they include shelter, safe water, sanitation, nutrition and safe places where they can play, learn and have a sense of normalcy," he said.
Hofmann says Red Cross workers are improving water and sanitation for both the refugees and their Liberian hosts.
"The needs of the host communities are the same as the refugees face,” Hofmann added. “Whatever the situation, how it goes on in the future, what we look at is to improve the situation for both the host communities and the refugees. Even if the refugees go back, this population needs access to safe drinking water and latrines. And that is what we look at, so no short-term solutions."
International mediation has so far failed to reconcile Ivory Coast's rival governments, so aid workers are preparing for the refugees to have a prolonged stay in Liberia. UNICEF says the number of Ivorian refugees in Liberia could reach 50,000 by mid-February and as many as 100,000 by April.