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Abidjan: Residents in distress after the destruction of their homes

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Diomande Ble Blonde/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.

Ivory Coast

Authorities in Ivory Coast's largest city have been demolishing homes in low-income areas over what they say are public health concerns, leaving thousands without shelter and with nowhere to go.

Hundreds of homes were crushed in February in a wave of demolitions targeting underdeveloped areas in the country's fast-growing economic hub of Abidjan.

The government says it's because of public health concerns as the poor areas — built along a lagoon in this port city of 6.3 million on West Africa's southern coast — suffer deadly floods during the rainy season.

More than 300 people have been killed since 2005 and officials say the deluges become breeding grounds for water-borne and other diseases.

Demolitions in low-income neighbourhoods are nothing new in Abidjan, where rapid urbanization has led to a population boom and housing shortages, with nearly one in five Ivorians residing in the city.

It’s a challenge in many parts of Africa where economic woes pushed more people into cities in search of better opportunities, straining an already overstretched infrastructure.

However, the latest Abidjan demolition — mainly in impoverished suburbs in the Gesco and Sebroko districts — is one of the largest in years, with an estimated hundreds of thousands of residents affected since it began in late January.

Evicted families and rights groups say that this time, it's being done without prior notice or compensation.

Local authorities have defended the demolitions, and say relocations of families left homeless to safer areas has started.

Some 35% of Ivorians are poor. Water shortages are a daily curse, with many forced to fetch water from streams for their daily needs.

The country has also had to contend with other challenges, such as jihadi attacks that have spread to coastal states in West Africa, including Ivory Coast.

"The government's vision is clear. These neighbourhoods need to be cleaned up," the Ivory Coast's communications minister, Amadou Coulibaly, has said.

He claimed in February that some of those evicted in neighbourhoods like Boribana are being resettled in at least 1,000 houses built by the government.

Many families, however, remain homeless, stranded in several parts of the city.

The demolitions are being carried out in “a brutal manner ... causing disastrous consequences for many families already vulnerable,” the Ivorian League for Human Rights said in a statement. It urged authorities to halt the campaign.

"It's our whole history. I was born here. My parents have been here for 40 years. So Boribana is like our village," Youssouf Coulibaly, a Boribana youth leader said.

"Imagine for a moment that when our children went to school, when they left (the house) there were no policemen. They say to themselves that at midday, we're going to go back home to eat, and come to find that dad isn't there, mum isn't there, the house isn't there."

Amid the outrage and protest from the evicted, Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara has asked Abidjan's local authorities to “show solidarity … to preserve cohesion and social peace.”

However, city officials say the demolitions are part of a broader project to reconstruct and provide basic amenities in the areas. Plots of land would be leased to those evicted for up to 25 years, for about $16 a month, they say.

On April 8, the government announced it's started to compensate affected households and that each would get about $405 to support the relocation.

In a country where the minimum wage is about $121 a month, some believe it's not enough to afford the growing cost of housing.

“All displaced people will receive the necessary support for their relocation,” said Belmonde Dogo, the minister in charge of efforts to alleviate poverty.

The Yopougon municipality, mostly of working-class residents, also announced plans to help those affected.

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