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Ivory Coast refugees finally get water

AMPAIN, Ghana (BP)–Ethnic and political rivalries plunged your country into civil war less than 10 years ago. Five months ago, you elected a new national leader, but your president refused to leave office. Forces loyal to the new president took to the streets, and your family joined thousands of others in fleeing your homes to escape the violence. Along the way, gangs loyal to the former president murdered dozens of your neighbors, simply because you came from the opponent’s hometown.

You made it across the border into a neighboring country, only to find your family jammed into a crowded refugee center, waiting for new refugee camps to be constructed. Days turn into weeks, and you wonder whether you’ll ever get to go back home. You wonder whether there’s even anything to go back to.

That’s the situation faced by residents of Ivory Coast, who fled their homes in the West African country for refuge in neighboring countries like Ghana. Although the former president, Laurent Gbagbo, was arrested in April, the new president, Alassane Ouattara, is still working to control the country. More than 1 million people were driven from their homes and the country’s economy was wrecked by the months of fighting, which has claimed at least 3,000 lives.

Most refugees are afraid to leave the camps, much less try to return home.

“For us, this war is not finished. There is no security. Even as I speak, I cannot set foot outside here,” cocoa farmer Michel Tieoula told a reporter for the Reuters news service. Tieoula, 51, fled with his family after a Christmas-Eve gun battle in his village. Like many refugees, he saw his village burning as he ran for his life.

About 15,000 Ivory Coast refugees made it to the eastern border town of Elubo, Ghana, where they are being housed in a transition camp until new long-term camps can be carved out of the bush, said Mark Hatfield, who with his wife, Susan, directs work in Sub-Sahara Africa for Baptist Global Response, an international relief and development organization.

“More than 100 new refugees are being registered each day at Elubo, and more than 600 people have spent weeks in the transition camp, which was designed to hold people for only a couple of days,” Hatfield said. “People are being transferred to a refugee camp at Ampain as new shelters are constructed, but that camp is getting close to its maximum capacity of 5,500 people.”

The government of Ghana has requested assistance as it scrambles to open a new camp about 95 miles away, said Shadrach Black, a BGR partner who is coordinating a Southern Baptist response to the refugee crisis.

“This new camp site is undeveloped bush made available by Ghana’s government,” Black said. “The United Nations and the Ghana Refugee Board are coordinating the development of this camp. They have requested assistance in both food aid as well as water, sanitation and health areas of the camp.”

Southern Baptists are helping with the project by providing five wells for the camp, which will house about 4,500 people when it opens, Black said. [Watch a video about the relief effort at http://vimeo.com/24168272.

“This project will provide four wells with manual hand pumps and a fifth with a submersible electric pump,” Black said. “That pump will provide pressure to fill up large water tanks throughout the camp, as well as to run chlorination units for potable water.”

Southern Baptists also plan to provide food aid to the camp when refugees arrive, Black noted. The wells are being provided with $34,000 from the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund. Local churches of the Ghana Baptist Convention will be trained to conduct trauma counseling and other kinds of ministries needed by camp residents.

Gbagbo’s arrest sparked a new flood of refugees into Ghana and prompted the need for quick response, Hatfield said.

“We’re grateful we could respond on short notice to this need because Southern Baptists have given generously to the World Hunger Fund,” Hatfield said. “Because we already had funds on hand, we are able to move quickly to demonstrate the love of God to people in crisis.”

The World Hunger Fund is a “dollar in / dollar out” program, Hatfield noted. Because the Southern Baptist Cooperative Program provides administrative support for world hunger projects, 100 percent of each hunger donation can be used to meet needs overseas.

People who care are asked to pray for the work going on to open the new camp, Black said.

“Please pray that all five borehole wells will produce abundant water that will test clean and provide potable water for the occupants of this camp,” Black said. “Pray that through the example of providing water for daily living, refugees can find true living water through a relationship in Jesus Christ.”
Mark Kelly is senior writer and assistant editor for Baptist Press. Baptist Global Response is located on the Internet at www.gobgr.org.

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  • Mark Kelly