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Food shortages in Liberia as refugees from Ivory Coast strain supplies

Talks are being held with both political factions in the current standoff in Ivory Coast. However, African mediators say progress is slow.

There is no sign of Laurent Gbagbo agreeing to step down as president in favour of his rival Alassane Quattrara, who is widely believed to have won the recent election. As the power struggle continues, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has stepped up its presence in Ivory Coast.

UNHCR estimates that more than 18,000 people have been displaced in the west by post-election violence and the organisation is concerned to try and improve conditions for refugees in Man and Danané. At the same time, UNHCR is continuing to strengthen its presence in eastern Liberia, where an estimated 30,000 refugees have fled. A camp is being built at Bahn and bulldozers have been brought from Sierra Leone to clear land, though jungle conditions make preparation of the site difficult. To fund these operations in both Ivory Coast and Liberia, UNHCR is appealing for nearly 44 million dollars.

UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations are also working to ramp up support for villagers in Liberia who have taken in refugees from Ivory Coast. At one of the main border crossing points in Nimba, agencies report around 600 people are arriving daily into Liberia. Food distribution has begun to 23 Liberian communities sheltering refugees near the border, though there is a growing need for additional aid.

In the past, families in Ivory Coast gave food and shelter to refugees from Liberia during the long Liberian civil war, which finally ended in 2003. Now grateful Liberians want to repay the debt and help refugees from Ivory Coast. According to agency workers in the region, despite their own scare resources, the level of generosity being shown to the refugees by Liberian villagers is overwhelming. However, with the continued influx of new arrivals, resources are being stretched to a point where Liberians desperately need help. If they don’t receive adequate assistance, organizations such as the Danish Refugee Council fear that a long-term crisis could be triggered among farming communities in eastern Liberia.

While agencies distribute extra food and monitor water supplies, as well as work to set up shelter and sanitation facilities for refugees, the United Nations looks set to authorize another 2,000 peacekeeping troops for the Ivory Coast. Meanwhile, ordinary citizens in both countries will be hoping and praying that this crisis can be brought to an end peacefully and sometime soon.

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