With increasing displacement in the Central African Republic (CAR) and waning funding, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today warned that the growing needs will exceed emergency supplies in the coming weeks.
“Wherever our mobile teams go, they are seeing more people displaced by violence,” said Bob McCarthy, UNICEF Emergency Coordinator in CAR.
Since September 2013, the number of people forced to flee their homes has almost doubled with an estimated 394,000 now displaced.
“We just arrived two days ago,” said 31-year-old farmer, Jean-de-Dieu, while setting up a makeshift shelter with plastic sheeting provided by UNICEF for his wife and five children in one of the displacement sites in Bossangoa.
“We feel safer here than in the bush. Our huts were burned down and our cattle were stolen. We fled with nothing except some pots and cassava leaves.”
The UN agency urgently needs $3 million in additional funds for emergency relief items like blankets, mosquito nets, jerry cans and soap for 55,000 internally displaced persons (IDP) in the country over the next six months.
Since August, more than 44,000 displaced people have received plastic sheeting, blankets, mosquito nets, jerry cans, hygiene kits and soap with UNICEF support.
“We are delivering essential medicines to restart emergency healthcare and safe water to families in displacement sites such as Bossangoa,” said Mr. McCarthy. “Simple items like jerry cans make a big difference in allowing people to transport and store water where they live. Any delay or disruption in the delivery of basic yet essential supplies puts displaced people and young children increasingly at risk of diarrhoea and other diseases.”
Plagued by decades of instability and fighting, the country witnessed a resumption of violence last December when the Séléka rebel coalition launched a series of attacks. A peace agreement was reached in January, but the rebels again seized the capital, Bangui, in March, forcing President François Bozizé to flee.
There is now a transitional government, headed by Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye, entrusted with restoring law and order and paving the way for democratic elections. But armed clashes in the north-east have increased since the beginning of August, and the country is facing a dire humanitarian situation that affects the entire population of some 4.6 million.
In addition, there are continued reports of gross human rights violations since the Séléka coalition seized power in March 2013, including the deliberate killing of civilians, acts of sexual violence against women and children, and the destruction and looting of property, including hospitals, schools and churches.
According to John Ging, the Director of Operations for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the number one issue today in CAR is protection.
“The atrocities that are being committed against the civilian population are indescribable. They are instilling incredible fear among all communities,” he told reporters at UN Headquarters, having just returned from an inter-agency mission to the CAR.
He noted that armed groups from both the Muslim and Christian communities were targeting innocent civilians on both sides. “We appealed to community leaders, we appealed to religious leaders to take great care in terms of the rhetoric. The situation is extremely fragile and, as I say, communities are now understandably and rightly gripped by fear.”
Other dimensions of the crisis include lack of schooling for children, given that over half of the schools have been occupied; massive needs for displaced people, including shelter, water, sanitation; and a lack of infrastructure for public services.
“Our message is that this country needs to come into the international spotlight. The scale of humanitarian suffering is among the worst in the world and it’s getting worse. And we are very, very concerned about what is happening now in terms of the attacks on communities and what that will then mean in terms of inter-communal tension and the prospects for even more violence,” said Mr. Ging.
He added that, while there is no doubt about the commitment of the transitional government to tackle the situation, it neither has the capacity nor the resources to give effect to good intentions.
“That’s why the international community has to step in, in a very large way to help, to strengthen and reinforce the national structures and capacities to deliver on the very basics in terms of security and public services.”