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COTE D'IVOIRE: Thousands evicted ahead of rains

Costa de Marfil
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ABIDJAN, 18 June 2010 (IRIN) - Siaka Traoré, 48, a carpenter and father of four, crouched under a makeshift tent held up by small wooden poles, protecting his eight-month-old baby against the cold wind. He is living in Adjamé, a commercial neighbourhood in the economic capital, Abidjan, after being evicted from his home by the government, and has not yet found suitable lodgings for his family.

"One morning in May we were woken up by bulldozers at our heads. They destroyed our house. I barely had time to scoop up my children's belongings. Since then, we have received no help," Traoré told IRIN, exhausted after weeks of searching for affordable lodging.

In May 2010 the Ivoirian authorities activated the contingency plan Operation des Secours (ORSEC) to move 23,000 families out of flood plains and water drainage canals in 90 neighbourhoods in preparation for the annual rains.

Some 21 people died in floods in Abidjan in 2009, and eight in 2008, according to the government.

"It was decided that once the first rains appeared we should relocate more families," ORSEC coordinator, Sam Etiassé, told reporters in Abidjan. ORSEC is backed by donors and the government risks significant support from the European Commission if it does not carry out the plan, Etiassé added.

"The houses are badly built; gutters are built in landfill sites. We must expel these populations by force to enable waste water to flow and to prevent flooding that could lead to landslides," said an ORSEC official, who wished to remain anonymous.

Traoré earns US$3.50 a day, which is just enough to feed his family but cannot cover rent for a one-bedroom home in Abidjan, which he estimates would cost about $27.50 a month.

His neighbour, Martin Kouabenana, 38, managed to rescue his work permits just before his old house was destroyed. "The government gave us one month's warning of the eviction, but it also promised to re-house 400 families [in the neighbourhood], and help us with the down-payment for rent. But that never happened, and we have been left to fend for ourselves," he said.

Some residents have refused to leave their homes.

"We don't intend to go against the authorities' decision. But they promised to give us funds to pay for decent homes before we left and that hasn't yet come through," said Daouda Coulibaly, 28, from Washington neighbourhood, near Cocody.

"Even if that means bulldozers knock down our walls on top of us, we will stay here. Because we can't leave without money."

Clementine Adjoua, 35, a street vendor, and mother of three, told IRIN: "We heard each family should receive $185. This isn't enough! This will cover a deposit [on new dwellings] but it will not cover our increased rent," she said.

Her monthly rent has remained at $18.50 for the past three years, while she earns about $63 per month. "Obviously I cannot pay $37 or $45 each month for rent," she told IRIN.

The Minister of the Interior, Désiré Tagro, told reporters on 16 June the government had set aside $3.5 million to "protect displaced populations", but did not specify how much each family would receive, or when the money would come through.

"If nothing is done, the rainy season will once again plunge Cote d'Ivoire into mourning," he said. "Relocating populations living in at-risk zones means we can save human lives."