CAR: Thousands living in displacement sites at risk of floods

4 April, 2014
March 2014, Bangui, CAR: Water stagnates amidst tents and shelters following early-season rainfalls at the displacement site at Bangui's international airport. Credit: OCHA/Laura Fultang
March 2014, Bangui, CAR: Water stagnates amidst tents and shelters following early-season rainfalls at the displacement site at Bangui's international airport. Credit: OCHA/Laura Fultang

The imminent arrival of heavy, seasonal rains could be devastating for tens of thousands of people still living in displacement sites across the Central African Republic (CAR). The UN and its humanitarian partners are working around the clock to identify safer sites for people to live and improving access to basic social services within communities so that people can return to their homes.

At Bangui’s M‘Poko International Airport, an estimated 70,000 people are living in extraordinarily vulnerable conditions. Early rainfall in recent weeks has already destroyed some tents, and flooded some sections of the site with raw sewerage. As the rains set in, people will be exposed to outbreaks of water and vector borne diseases including malaria.
But despite this, people are reluctant to leave. Bertrand Massengue is the representative of the people living at the airport.

“People here generally want to return to their homes,” he said. “But they are hesitant to do so, mainly because of security concerns.”

The displacement site at the airport is the largest in the country. There are more than 625,000 people displaced across CAR, forced from their homes by the violence that has escalated since the beginning of December. In Bangui alone there are more than 200,000 people living in 42 sites, typically in public buildings or public spaces like the airport.

Humanitarian plans remain underfunded

CAR’s rainy season usually starts in May, bringing with it drenching and near-daily rains until October. Aid groups have been aware of this looming risk since the early days of the crisis. In February, a survey at the M’Poko airport site found that up to 86 per cent of people wanted to return to the neighbourhoods before the rains started, pending security improvements and the provision of basic services.

Aid groups are implementing a series of projects to support people who are willing to return to their homes. For example, in Bangui the French NGO ACTED is providing short-term work for people displaced by the violence, using their labour to rebuild 300 destroyed houses and rehabilitate a 10km road. Other humanitarian programmes aim to help restore basic services, including health centres and schools.

But these plans – like many other humanitarian strategies – are dramatically underfunded.

“Security has improved in my neighborhood”

Nevertheless, some people have started organizing ‘go and see’ visits to their neighborhoods. Abraham Moloma, the Head of one of the zones at the M’Poko site, visited his home in Bangui’s Kolongo 1 neighbourhood at the beginning of March.

“Security has improved,” he said. “There are frequent patrols by MISCA troops (MISCA: the African-led International Support Mission to CAR) and economic activity is slowly resuming there.

“I would like to return but not alone. I plan to talk to other people from my neighborhood living here so we can all return as a group,” said Mr. Moloma.

New relocation sites identified

Aid groups are also trying to improve the conditions at some of the sites that have been deemed high risk. Once again, ACTED is building latrines, showers and emergency shelters, as well as organizing regular waste collection from some of the sites. In addition, the humanitarian community and national authorities also identified two new relocation sites – one in Bangui's 4th district and the other in Ombella M’Poko Province – to relocate between 15,000 and 20,000 people who are living in the most exposed sites.

Again, these plans are dependent on new funding and again, some people are already doing what they can to prepare. Following the rains of early March, some of the airport’s residents have already been forced to rebuild and reinforce their shelters.

“The humanitarian community is committed to facilitating the voluntary return of IDPs (internally displaced people) in a way that is safe and dignified,” said Mr. Abdou Dieng, the Senior Humanitarian Coordinator in CAR.

“For those who cannot return we are doing what we can to relocate them to other sites during the rainy season. Preparations for this are already underway. We will also facilitate communication between IDPs and communities in the areas of potential returns” he said.

OCHA in the Central African Republic>>