Photo credits: © Berberati
Challenges of humanitarian assistance in Central African Republic
Apr 9 2013
Following and recent clashes between rebels and government forces, the humanitarian situation in the Central African Republic is still perilous. Access to vulnerable areas is still highly restricted, most public services have been interrupted and widespread looting has weakened resilience to the imminent hunger season.
We speak to Clément Cazaubon, Action Against Hunger’s Country Director in Central African Republic, about working inside CAR and the challenge of delivering aid to those in urgent need.
What is the situation in the capital Bangui and other parts of Central African Republic today?
The situation is gradually calming down but remains very tense. People still regularly have to stand-by and take shelter on their way into town because of outbreaks of shooting in neighbourhoods they had intended to go through. We are also seeing small amounts of displacement, rare before the conflict, of families from certain neighbourhoods seeking refuge in other areas.
In the provinces, and especially in the south-west and south-east of the country, the situation is still extremely volatile, either due to the retreat of the former regime’s army, the advance of Séléka troops, or the presence of armed groups who are not necessarily aligned to either side, such as groups of ex road blockers. This type of banditry is now common in the country: many incidents have taken place and are on-going.
In a state of war there is always a sort of generalised anarchy as everyone tries to play their cards right and come out on top: criminality, gangs and violent clashes are thus particularly prevalent at the moment. Tensions between different ethnicities and religions also need to be monitored.
What are the current humanitarian priorities?
It is still difficult to get a precise idea of the humanitarian consequences of recent events and especially to distinguish them from the chronic problems that beset the country before December. In any case, the present security situation is still too tense and it is still not possible to carry out real needs assessments in the provinces. Bangui remains the focal point of the international humanitarian community’s current efforts. Actions initiated in the provinces since December’s crisis have unfortunately not been fully realised. This is due in part to the fact that the situation has been largely unstable for three months so it has been too dangerous to carry out interventions, but above all there is a lack of necessary funds to implement good quality programmes, a problem shared by every organisation here.
What is especially concerning at the moment is that it has become impossible for many people to access certain basic goods; food in particular. This is not because of a lack of availability at the markets, but because people can’t even get to the markets: many are still too scared of the fighting and, above all, they have run out of money! This crisis began in December. For four consecutive months the salaries of public servants, for example, have not been paid; these circumstances have put lots of people are in precarious financial situations. Certain rural areas have been put under great pressure, cattle have been stolen and field and stocks have been looted, all on top of a situation of chronic poverty and food insecurity across the country. This recent crisis therefore further exacerbates an already very precarious state of affairs.
In a month’s time we will officially enter the hungry season; families will no longer have enough to eat and food prices will rise. A period set to be far more delicate this year because so many communities have not been able to plant crops in the last few months due to fighting or fleeing from insecurity. The food and nutrition situation will clearly have to be closely monitored in the coming months.
Finally, many people lost everything during the looting. It is the same for most of the infrastructure, including health centres. Restoring some of the most basic services and helping to re-establish health centres are among the top priorities.
In addition, depending on how the situation of internally displaced persons and external refugees develops, aid will no doubt have to be provided for them.
What are we planning to do in the face of all these problems?
The first thing for ACF and all other humanitarian actors in the country to do is to gain unrestricted access to those in need. Humanitarian presence needs to be re-established across the country. This will undoubtedly bring more calm to the situation and reassure the population.
Fortunately, our teams have been able to save the vast majority of our stock, equipment, offices... We support 15 health centres for the treatment of malnutrition in Bangui. Thanks to the extraordinary mobilisation of our national teams, these programmes have been able to continue almost without interruption: today 70 children are hospitalised with severe acute malnutrition and complications. This figure is likely to increase: lots of families preferred to suspend treatment during the conflict and many still don’t dare come back to the hospital yet. During the month of January alone, 500 children were receiving treatment for acute malnutrition. These programmes will therefore have to continue.
Our emergency teams will launch rapid assessments of nutrition, food security, water and sanitation needs. ACF is responsible for emergency assessments throughout the west of the country on behalf of the humanitarian community: these assessments are currently being organised for Bossangoa, Bangui and Kemo. Based on these evaluations, additional programmes will quickly be put into place. It will perhaps work in the same way as it did in January when the needs were so great that assessment teams, while continuing to quantify and qualify the needs, also began to provide the first humanitarian assistance; mostly replenishing stocks of drugs and therapeutic equipment in rural health centres.
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