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CAR: The true face of displacement

26 Oct 2017
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Secretary-General António Guterres meets with internally displaced persons in Bangassou, Central African Republic. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Forced displacement and humanitarian needs have sharply risen in the Central African Republic as inter-communal violence has spread over the past 12 months, including to previously unaffected parts of the country. UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, has travelled to CAR to highlight the peacekeeping and protection needs there. “This visit is a visit of solidarity but of active solidarity,” said Mr. Guterres. “There is an opportunity to build a new Central African Republic that is peaceful, secure and prosperous.” As Mr. Guterres stressed at the beginning of his mission, the humanitarian situation in CAR remains very troubling, with warnings that if not addressed immediately, it could reach the same levels as in 2014. His goal, in his own words, was “to draw attention to a fragile situation that has been largely ignored by the international community.”

Since the beginning of the year, violent clashes between criminalized armed groups and armed civilians — so-called ‘auto-defense groups’ — on the civilian population have mounted. Marked by widespread human rights violations, entire neighborhoods and villages have been burned down and whole cities emptied. When violence took place in the town of Bria in June 2017, 41,000 inhabitants fled overnight, leaving it virtually empty. Overall, the number of IDPs has reached 600,000 – or one in four people, one third of them children, while one in two people need aid to survive.

Despite soaring needs, the 2017 CAR Humanitarian Response Plan remains only 33 per cent funded. “The people of Central African Republic rely on humanitarian assistance for survival. We cannot leave this people and we are not willing to leave this people” says Joseph Inganji, Head of OCHA in CAR. “More support is needed – and it is needed soon”. Here is where the money would be directed:

Shelter

“I am an elderly woman and I found refuge at the Central Mosque in Bangui”, says Hadja. “I am forced to sleep in the open air as I don’t have a tent. Now that the site has closed down, I don’t know where to go.”

The 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan requested $50M to provide shelter to 900K people. To date, only 8 per cent of the shelter cluster has been funded.

Moussa, Idriss and Mahmoud (left to right) sought shelter in Bangassou. Like many others, they have been here since May 2017. “We could not find a place to stay at the Petit Séminaire (site). We struggled for weeks. Finally, we decided to create a shelter here, under a truck. This is where we sleep and spend most of the day.” The Petit Seminaire site, a Catholic seminary, is home to 2,000 people, most of them Muslims, who fled attacks by the anti-Balakas, while most of their families and neighbours sought refuge in DRC.

Most IDPs live far below the poverty line with no access to their livelihoods, or to basic services, such as clean water, health care or education. They face insecurity, discrimination and stigma and risk becoming marginalized by society. IDPs and their hosts need investment in basic services, including health clinics and schools, to promote social cohesion.

Rebuilding livelihoods

In the capital, Bangui, many IDPs have returned home only to find that their homes and everything in them, have been destroyed or looted. The cost of rebuilding puts additional strain on already vulnerable, impoverished families. This year, humanitarian organizations have helped 2,000 families rebuild their homes, while also connecting them to clean water and healthcare. Adequate living conditions – including safety and protection from harm – are instrumental to a safe, dignified and voluntary returns process.

Adequate food

Surrounded by the smoke in what serves as her kitchen, Sakinatou shares her daily sorrow: “What do I feed my family today?” One year ago she and her family left Kabo in northern CAR, for the city of Damara. She is from the Fulani ethnicity and many Fulani harassed by armed groups had to flee. Sakinatou is all too aware that they cannot outstay their welcome, as living conditions for both families are extremely tough. “Often, the food is just enough for the kids not to starve.”

The 2017 HRP requested close to $175M to provide urgent food aid to 990,000 people, only one third of which has come through.

Nutrition support

In CAR, 41 per cent of children under the age of five are chronically malnourished. Displacement increases the likelihood of child malnutrition as the quantity, quality and availability of food diminishes. Funding for the nutrition cluster remains only 21 per cent funded.

Basic health services

Living in a state of continuous and often repeated forced displacement places a significant toll on many IDPs’ physical and mental health. IDPs are often forced to live in unsanitary conditions, with little to no access to health services. This is particularly serious for women and girls, who cannot access sexual, reproductive and maternal health services. Sixty per cent of health structures in CAR are managed by humanitarian agencies, but conflict makes them hard to access and underfunding hampers humanitarians’ ability to address the most urgent needs. Of the $40.3 M requested at the beginning of this year to assist 1.5M people with basic health services, only 26.6 per cent has been received.

The maternal mortality rate in CAR dropped from 1290 to 882 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births between 1990 and 2015, but it is still one of the world’s highest rates, and ongoing insecurity threaten to reverse this progress. Amina gave birth to twins in a village outside of Damara. “I was lucky we are all in good health. I know of many mothers who have died or suffered serious complications delivering alone in the bush,” she said. Mobile clinics are operating in Damara and Wangué, to provide basic maternal health support, to vaccinate children and treat malaria.

Education

350 schools in CAR are currently closed due to the conflict, depriving 400,000 children to their right to education. Out-of-school children are more susceptible to protection abuses, including forced recruitment by armed groups. And yet, just $6.4M out of the $34.8 needed for emergency education activities, has been received.

Child protection

This little girl sleeps on the floor in a tiny room that she and her mother share with nine others in Petit Seminaire. Children like Amina live in horrific conditions, with inadequate food and basic sanitation or health facilities, and no school or other activities. Many children have also been forcibly recruited — in 2016 child recruitment doubled leaving over 5,000 children associated with armed groups. Child-friendly spaces provided by UNICEF create a safe place for children to play and learn. Children are also given counselling and support following sexual abuse. psychosocial support. Humanitarian partners are aiming to assist 800,000 children at risk of violence and abuse by the end of the year, though only one third of the $9 million has been received.

Photos: OCHA