CAR: Looming rains threaten Bangui’s displaced
Tens of thousands of people displaced by months of violence are still living in displacement sites. They need to move out of the sites before their shelters are flooded by approaching rains. But many are reluctant, fearing the armed groups that still roam the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR).
The international community is trying to improve security and create better living conditions in Bangui’s neighbourhoods, in an effort to help people leave the displacement sites.
Some 200,000 people are living in 42 sites across the city, where even a tiny amount of rain will trigger floods and turn the ground to mud. When this happens, aid groups fear that their trucks will no longer be able to deliver clean water, and conditions will be perfect for the spread of water-borne diseases.
Meetings in a deserted school
Since the end of February, OCHA aid workers have held meetings with the Mayor of Bangui’s 7th district. The meetings often involved representatives from the African-led International Support Mission to CAR (MISCA) and the French Military’s Sangaris Operation, as well as community leaders.
At the peak of the fighting in late December, an estimated 30,000 people from the 7th district had fled their homes. About 24,000 have since returned. Many of the remaining 6,000 are too fearful to follow suit.
“The militias have erected barricades everywhere”
Sitting in a classroom, Mayor Joseph Tagbale and his district chiefs spoke of people’s fears of looting and militia attacks, despite the presence of foreign troops. “The militias have erected barricades everywhere in the neighbourhood,” he said. “They need to be disarmed.”
Others in the room raised fears that younger community members might be tempted to join armed groups. “There is no work, schools are closed and young people are left to themselves with nothing to do all day,” said Felicite Mabula, representative of the women of the 7th District.
The message from the Mayor and other leaders was clear: Before people can consider returning home, they need security, work, food, health care and, above all, peace.
This was the first meeting with the leaders of the 7th District. But it was not the first to take place in Bangui. Aid groups have organized similar meetings with leaders of Bangui’s other districts. Some of these gatherings have already had a dramatic impact on the lives of people affected by the crisis.
Shelter in a place called “Hope”
In Bangui’s 5th District, a meeting between the Mayor and the international community earlier this year led directly to the creation of a safe haven. The haven–known locally as “Hope”–was set up in the Benzvi neighbourhood.
Every night, between 1,000 and 2,000 people sleep in the tents provided by UN agencies and NGOs.
“Security is provided by 15 gendarmes (military police) and MISCA troops,” explained Mayor Thomas Simon Ngarakamba. “It is open to every resident of the district, whether they live in a displacement site or at home. Whenever they feel threatened they can come here.”
People there are provided with shelter, as well as protection from militias, and from the threat of floods.
“People who are fearing violence do not need to seek shelter in a displacement site,” said Mayor Ngarakamba. “They can stay at Hope close to their homes and work during the day.”
The Mayor has also partnered with the humanitarian community to create short-term employment for some of the young people in the 5th District. Every day, about 150 young people are employed on a rotating basis to clean the gutters and streets of the neighbourhood. This project is run by the international NGO ACTED and local NGO Kode ti Kwa with funds from the European Union.