Blog three of three from Central African Republic

Central African Republic: 'Help us help the children'

Mike Penrose, CEO of Action Against Hunger in France, visited the crises in Central African Republic. This is the last in Mike's series of three blogs.

By Action Against Hunger

Jan 17 2014

'Having written about how bad the camps are here in the Central African Republic, it is probably a bit strange to now mention that there is something good about them. But when compared to many others I have seen, there is one thing that is really quite positive. Unfortunately, this positive aspect is also masking a real health and nutrition time-bomb.

1 latrine per 1,000

Despite there being limited clean water, food, sanitation (1 latrine per 1,000 in many camps, compared to the humanitarian standard we all strive for of 1 for 50), high levels of rubbish, poor healthcare and no organisation, they are at least dry. It is hot here in Bangui, sometimes 30-35 degrees Celsius, and this means the sewage stays in the few latrines that have been dug, and children stay dry.

In many refugee and displaced camps around the world the biggest child killers, and the cause of the majority of malnutrition, isn't an absence of food, it is respiratory infections (caused mainly by the damp and cold) and diarrhea (often caused by poor sewage management).  These diseases take already undernourished children with lower than normal immune systems and turn them into severely malnourished clinical patients at risk of death in a matter of days.
 
The camps I have visited today and over the course of this week don't have high levels of these illnesses...yet. Unfortunately in between six weeks and two months the rains will come. These rains will cause children to get damp, the sewage that will be piled high in the overused latrines will spill out, and children will begin to cough and catch infections, causing Acute Watery Diarrhea (AWD). If it really gets bad we might even see the dreaded C word. Cholera. In a camp for the displaced Cholera strikes fear into everyone, as it can kill adults in a few days, and in children in hours.

Prepare for the worst

If we are to prevent this we need to start preparing for the worst. We need to assume that people will still be in camps in two months' time, and get essential materials imported in time. We need specialist nutritional supplements to keep children strong (such as high protein biscuits and high protein porridge), toilets built, medical and nutritional clinics established, and blankets and soap in the hands of the most needy. NGOs like Action Against Hunger are able to do more if our donors help us, the governments and the UN, who meet on Monday, need to decide that the children of the Central African Republic are a priority, and give us these resources.  Past form tends to suggest they won't, and that politics will trump the needs of children, but I am sincerely hoping, as they say in the financial circles, that 'previous performance is not an indicator of the future'.
 
Lastly, we need you, our donors and supporters, to help us help the children of the Central African Republic. The next few weeks and months will almost certainly be very, very hard for much of the population. The UN estimates nearly half of the 4 million residents have been affected by this crisis, and 1 million are already displaced or are refugees. Together however we can ensure that 'very, very hard' doesn't mean fatal for many of the most vulnerable. Especially children.'

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Photo credits:  ©  Eric Dessons