Battle for Abidjan leaves Ivorians without food or water

By Mark John

ABIDJAN (Reuters) – Wearing a white T-shirt with the words “Obama Girl” emblazoned in black, Mariam strides through a northern district of Abidjan with a plastic container of water balanced on her head.

“We haven’t slept, we haven’t eaten, we’ve had nothing drink. We are all going to die,” said the 17-year-old, one of the mass of Ivorians out hunting for supplies on Wednesday, the third day of fighting for control of Ivory Coast’s main city.

“Even the water we do get is dirty,” she said of the load she was carrying back to her family, as behind her toward the city center a thick black trail of smoke climbed into the sky, a legacy of clashes between forces loyal to presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara and those of the incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo.

Other residents rush over at the approach of the Reuters vehicle.

Some say they have already walked 15 km (10 miles) in their quest for drinking water and it is not even noon. Word is out that a midday curfew imposed by Ouattara but due to end on Wednesday has been extended. No one wants to be out on the streets after that for fear of being taken for a pro-Gbagbo fighter.

It is the outskirts of Yopougon, one of Gbagbo’s strongest inner city bastions. And yet those who want to talk all want him to go — perhaps not surprising given the nearby presence of patrolling Ouattara troops who seized this neighborhood on Monday.

“We are just waiting for him to go. It’s Alassane who we are banking on now,” said local man Ibrahim Cisse, 29.

Several other people say Ouattara soldiers have behaved well toward the local population. But they complain that water and electricity supplies went down at the same time as their main assault on Monday and have not been restored.

Rubbish is piling up in mounds by the road side; decaying corpses identified by locals as pro-Gbagbo militiamen remain uncollected.

“Tell the people the smell is going everywhere,” said 21-year-old Lassane Kone.

A war economy has sprung up rapidly. Mariam says the price of atieke — the ground manioc which is one of the staples of the Abidjan diet — has tripled in the space of a few days.

In this port town with an irrepressibly mercantilist streak, some locals have taken the measure of the situation and are trying to turn it into a slender advantage.

At a Ouattara base camp nearby, groups of women circulate between soldiers selling packets of atieke and little sachets of frozen fruit juices, the West African take on the ice lolly.

“It’s fine, the lads are buying, they hand over money okay,” said one vendor. “We are selling a bit so we can eat.”

(Editing by Giles Elgood)

Battle for Abidjan leaves Ivorians without food or water