The United Nations is trying to polish its stained image in Ivory Coast, following acts of intimidation against aid workers in the rebel-held north. U.N. workers face growing distrust throughout the country, even as humanitarian conditions are worsening.
Last week in the northwestern rebel-held city of Man, a plane operated by the World Food Program was welcomed with gunfire. When aid workers walked off the plane, they were greeted by jeers and anti U.N. slogans.
A top New-York-based U.N. assignments.neb-wire official from the humanitarian emergency coordinating branch, Alain Handy, says his mission in Abidjan is to restore the world body's credibility.
"The humanitarian space must be preserved," he said. "There is some sort of sanctity to the humanitarian space. So therefore, there is a difference with the unfolding political process but at the same time, [we need] to update the public on the fact that there is a wide range of humanitarian activity currently being undertaken by the U.N. system at large."
Civilians both in the rebel-held north and government-controlled south have attacked U.N. Displaced children in Ivory Coast (VOA photo - N. Colombant) peacekeepers, accusing them of failing to restore peace.
Many aid workers left Ivory Coast earlier this month after government planes dropped bombs on rebel and French military targets in northern areas. The bombing raids ended when French forces destroyed all Ivorian military aircraft. That, in turn, prompted a wave of lootings in government-held areas and a mass exodus of Ivorian civilians, foreigners and relief workers.
Mr. Handy says this is a crucial time for aid workers to resume their task.
"There is a humanitarian crisis in Cote d'Ivoire. I think that the north is being heavily affected; the western part of the country as well," he added. "What we're trying to do is to look at the crisis through a humanitarian lens. What can we do in terms of protection? What can we do in terms of water and sanitation? What can we do to provide assistance to those displaced people, to those returnees that are coming back eventually and how can we do it in a secure environment both for the vulnerable and the humanitarian workers."
The government air raids shattered an 18-month truce, halted the already faltering peace process and unraveled relief efforts, including an emergency program to feed half-a-million people. U.N. agencies say they now need $35 million to address humanitarian problems in Ivory Coast.
They are also conducting coordinated campaigns with local media and with authorities both in the north and south in an effort to restore the U.N.'s image as an agency that came to Ivory Coast to help.