The top United Nations humanitarian official today announced plans to step up relief efforts in the strife-torn Central African Republic (CAR), hours after meeting some of the scores of thousands of people who fled their homes and are now living in the bush to escape rebel attacks and fighting with Government forces.
John Holmes, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said the UN plans to establish coordination offices in remote areas of the country’s north – scene of the most brutal attacks on villages in the past year – to bring in more non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and support their work.
“With tens of thousands of people dispersed and hiding in the bush, a degraded road system, and few NGO partners on the ground, one of the greatest challenges is just reaching people in need,” he said, according to a statement issued by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
An estimated 284,000 people have been displaced in the past six months, with about 210,000 now living elsewhere within the CAR and about 74,000 escaping to neighbouring Chad, Cameroon and Sudan. Many fled after their villages were burned to the ground.
Mr. Holmes visited the Otah area this morning, now home to about 1,700 former residents of the town of Paoua, which was torched three months ago during fighting between Government forces and rebels.
These internally displaced persons (IDPs) have been returning to Paoua by day to try to rebuild their homes, but then retreating to nearby forests at night for their own safety.
“These men, women and children are not in good shape, living without decent food, clean water or health care, even though they are just a few kilometres away,” he said.
Mr. Holmes, who is the Emergency Relief Coordinator for the UN, also visited the town of Beboy, where many regulars at the weekly market have been afraid to return because of the continuing instability and lack of security.
The Under-Secretary-General then headed to the capital, Bangui, for talks with Gen. Lamine Cissé, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and the Head of the UN Peacebuilding Office in the CAR (known by its French acronym, BONUCA). He is also expected to meet with CAR Prime Minister Élie Doté.
This is the final leg of Mr. Holmes’ two-week mission to Sudan, Chad and the CAR, where he has focused particularly on the impact of Sudan’s Darfur crisis on the wider region.