Six Months after Post-Election Violence, Ivory Coast Struggles with Food Shortages Amidst Recovery

Though no longer beset by fighting, Ivorian citizens wait for sense of normalcy and a return to their homes and livelihoods
An ACF worker checks on Ivorians displaced. Photo: ACF-Ivory Coast
An ACF worker checks on Ivorians displaced after post-election violence in the Ivory Coast. Photo: ACF-Ivory Coast

More than six months after contested elections plunged Ivory Coast into political stalemate and nationwide violence, the country has begun to regain relative stability as the chaos subsides, security improves and many communities begin to rebuild.

Despite some gains, Action Against Hunger | ACF International has declared the humanitarian crisis far from over, citing as evidence the country’s fragile economic markets, destitute populations, exhausted food reserves and the refugees who remain in neighboring Liberia, too fearful to return home. ACF has also called on the international community to mobilize on behalf of the Ivory Coast in order to promote and assist the impaired country’s reconstruction.

Though a good percentage of the Ivory Coast’s displaced population has returned, the United Nations has identified, as of October, 29,000 Internally Displaced Persons still living in camps, while an estimated 270,000 remain in the homes of host families and another 170,000 remain in neighboring Liberia. "Many of them still do not plan to return home,” said Vincent Taillandier, ACF’s Desk Officer for Ivory Coast. “It’s quite common in post-conflict situations: massive displacement concentrated in just a few weeks takes years to resolve.”

Little Access to Food

Due to the post-electoral violence, many farmers missed the planting season and the harvesting of what remained of their seasonal crops. As such, the Ivory Coast’s annual lean season—that period of routine food scarcity between harvests—will be especially difficult this year. A survey conducted in the Western regions of Zouan-Hounien, Bin-Houyé, and Toulépleu by Action Against Hunger in August found that 60 percent of households were not be able to meet their food needs during this year’s lean season, which has been further complicated by late rains—a figure that is typically closer to 30 percent of households.

“Many families could not farm their land or put aside sufficient food stocks to feed all their members,” said Reza Kasra, Action Against Hunger’s Country Director in Ivory Coast. “When faced with such a situation, there’s no alternative for the poor than just ‘getting by’.”

Our teams are reporting an increase in alternative coping mechanisms, such as hunting wild rodents (agouti) and snakes, and the sale of personal property or productive assets, such as chickens. The lack of available jobs or other market-based livelihoods also means a significant reduction in money normally allocated to health, education and other essential non-food needs.

The Economic Outlook

Even if economic activity improves, a full recovery is unlikely to immediately follow as so many sectors were disrupted during the violence, from a government embargo on commodity exports to widespread bank closures, population displacements and disruptions in agricultural output. Without income, farmers cannot replace their seeds, fertilizers, and tools (many of which were looted. As a result, shortages of food and income have increased the rates of malnourished children: we've documented some 15,000 malnourished children in the country’s West, including a growing number of cases of severe malnutrition with medical complications such as malaria, anemia and acute respiratory infection. The Ivory Coast’s health system, severely compromised by the recent violence, has restricted the movement of government health personnel, disrupted the flow of medicine and prevented the processing—and subsequent care of—severely ill patients. 

Reasons for Optimism

Though the return to order will take time, the Ivory Coast’s new government has committed to providing some public services, which make conditions more favorable for an eventual recovery.

“With such a crisis, one would expect a total shutdown of government operations, a disintegration of the entire system. Yet this wasn’t the case,” Taillandier, ACF Desk Officer, said. “The departments we work with have shown strength in continuing to operate despite the chaos. However, we’re still having a problem with field representation and capacity outside the cities.” To support hospitals still paralyzed in the North and the West, ACF has intervened to help the sick and injured while supporting the public health system through other measures such as health staff training.

International Assistance Still Needed

Just a few weeks ago, the Ivory Coast government began a transition phase marked by the redeployment of basic public services, reconstruction efforts and measures to stabilize population displacements. “This phase must take place, or else you risk slipping back into an acute crisis,” Taillandier said. “It is extremely important to continue to assist people to rebuild and regain their livelihoods and independence.”

Though media interest has waned with the violence, Taillander emphasized that the international community must keep an eye on the Ivory Coast during this essential—and expensive—rebuilding period. “While the international community allocated millions of dollars during the crisis phase, there are few funds available today for the transition to normalcy. As a result, emergency-funded programs have stopped while needs remain urgent. It is absolutely essential that we maintain momentum in responding to humanitarian needs in the Ivory Coast.”