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Aid groups want access to "fearful" Ivorians caught in fighting

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 6 Apr 2011 18:12 GMT
Author: George Fominyen
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DAKAR (AlertNet) - As soldiers backing Ivory Coast presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara attacked the bunker where incumbent Laurent Gbagbo was defying efforts to force him to cede power, aid groups called on both parties to allow access to thousands of people in need of humanitarian assistance.

"We need access, access, access to the people, especially the wounded which we need to transport to the hospital as soon as possible," said Elisabeth Byrs a spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Byrs said humanitarian workers have had almost no access to people in Ivory Coast's main city of Abidjan since fighting escalated last Thursday. Some have been targeted as they attempted to deliver food to people in some of the neighbourhoods where most people have run out of supplies.

"This is really, really worrying ... It is a very sad situation," Byrs said on the phone from Geneva.

Prices of food items have doubled and water has been cut in most parts of the city residents said.

"We are very tired ... We have not been able to step out in the past week and we have run out of water," said an Abidjan resident who only gave his name as Bamba.

"We're telling ourselves that it will be over soon but when will that soon come?" he told AlertNet on the phone.

The United Nations has warned that West Africa's peace and stability are being tested by the Ivory Coast crisis, and unless the international community commits fully to a major humanitarian response, the entire region will come under further pressure.

"There can be no peace and security in West Africa if there is no peace and security in Côte d'Ivoire. The social, economic, and humanitarian consequences of the Ivorian crisis will be overwhelming unless we give the country the support it needs,"

Valerie Amos, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said in a statement after visiting the country this week.

Amos travelled to the western town of Duékoué, the site of what aid agencies have described as the mass killing of hundreds of people -- the most serious human rights violations to have occurred since the start of the four-month-old political crisis.

Over 200 bodies have been discovered so far, U.N. officials said.

"I heard testimonies from those lucky to be alive, who were both fearful and traumatized and are looking to the humanitarian community for help," Amos said.

Aid agencies are ramping up their activities to deal with a crisis that has left over 1 million people displaced in Ivory Coast and prompted 120,000 others to flee to neighbouring Liberia.

The aid agency Action Against Hunger (ACF) said on Wednesday it was flying 24 tonnes of material including energy biscuits, water reservoirs and buckets to Man in the west of Ivory Coast.

"It is essential that we ensure the international community is present," Francois Danel, the executive director of ACF France, said in a statement.

"Because of the fighting, tens of thousands of people have fled their homes. Between the cities of Man and Duékoué many villages are completely empty, some burned to the ground. People have fled into the bush or over the border in to neighbouring Liberia," he added.


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