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Red Cross West Africa Humanitarian Chief Outlines Top Priorities

Horse cart drivers transport goods and passengers through deep flood waters in Sicap Mbao, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Dakar (file)

The International Committee of the Red Cross chief for West Africa says the organization is focusing on trying to help displaced persons in Southern Senegal.

Displaced populations continue to be one of the major humanitarian concerns in West Africa, says the International Committee of the Red Cross Regional Delegation head Christophe Martin.

"2010 will continue focusing on Casamance, the entire region of southern Senegal, because it is a situation which has been difficult over the last years," Martin said. "Which has been more difficult over 2009 in terms of security environment. Security has decreased, and that puts additional pressure on the population."

In 2009, attacks by the rebel group known as the Movement of Democratic Forces in the Casamance forced citizens in the region to evacuate some villages. Martin said the migration causes problems such as access to water and other needs.

Martin also noted instability in neighboring Guinea-Bissau, where the president was assassinated last year.

"You have a political environment, which is still kind of fragile, and which could prove to put a lot of pressure on the population," Martin said.

Martin also mentioned humanitarian conditions in The Gambia, where President Yahya Jammeh has come under fire from other international organizations for threatening human-rights defenders.

"We are talking about supporting more effectively the National Society of the Gambian Red Cross, as well to develop programs of training to the police forces and army forces in humanitarian principle," Martin said.

Martin added the ICRC is hoping to get back to performing its traditional humanitarian activities within Gambian prisons, work he said is often confidential between the government and the ICRC.