Interview: “The people of CAR have a right to humanitarian assistance”
The crisis in the Central African Republic (CAR) began in late December 2012, when a rebel group seized cities in the north and began to march towards the capital, Bangui. The Seleka Coalition – an alliance of rebel groups – eventually seized power in March 2013. Despite the creation of a transitional government, insecurity persists in the form of widespread looting and violence and has had a devastating impact on civilians.
Kaarina Immonen took up the post of Humanitarian Coordinator in January 2013. In this interview, she talks about the humanitarian impact of the crisis and efforts by humanitarian agencies to support vulnerable communities in a complex environment.
Q: How serious is the humanitarian situation in CAR?
The humanitarian situation in CAR was serious even before the Seleka seized power. The majority of people already relied on the humanitarian community for basic social services such as health, water, sanitation and education. Central Africans have some of the lowest life expectancy rates in the world and face some of the worst mortality indicators.
So this crisis exacerbated what was already a critical situation. And now, because of the fighting, there are 206,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) inside the country and about 58,000 more who have fled to neighbouring countries. The humanitarian community is trying to meet the needs of 1.6 million people – about 35 per cent of the population.
Q: What are humanitarian organizations doing to help people affected by this crisis?
We have identified the priority needs as health care, food security, protection and sanitation. UNICEF has imported water purification products to Bangui while WHO has delivered drugs, obstetric and surgical supplies to health centres, maternity units and hospitals in the city. We have responded to a measles outbreak and we are providing medical and psycho-social support to the victims of sexual and gender-based violence. UNICEF, UNDP and the French NGO ACTED are providing assistance in waste management.
FAO, WFP and the NGO Action Against Hunger are continuing the distribution of food and agricultural inputs but it needs to increase. The food security situation is of particular concern. There are approximately 480,000 people across the country who are severely food insecure. The food security situation for IDPs is critical. The crisis will in all likelihood ruin the current agricultural season, and families have already lost their food reserves, their tools, seeds, livestock and revenues as a result of looting and the prolonged crisis.
Markets are slowly resuming but limited food is available and prices are quite high. The most vulnerable people eat only once a day and meals have become less diverse. There is a high risk of a nutritional crisis during the lean season (July to September) unless urgent assistance is provided.
Q: What are the main challenges for humanitarian organizations?
UN agencies and our humanitarian partners are committed to providing life-saving assistance to the people of CAR. But our activities are being impeded by the continued insecurity and by a lack of funding.
The insecurity is hindering our ability to access people in need. We have called on all groups to respect humanitarian space and humanitarian principles, and to guarantee free access to vulnerable communities.
Specifically, we have called on the transitional government and other groups to stop abuses against civilians, particularly women and children who are bearing the brunt of this conflict. We have called on them to secure the road networks so we can physically get to where we need to be.
In terms of funding, for 2013 we appealed for US$200 million. This appeal is only 30 per cent funded. We thank our donors for their support but we need much more and we need it quickly. We will be launching a revision of this appeal very soon that will reflect the changes to the humanitarian situation in CAR.
Q: If access is so limited, why are you asking for additional funding?
Despite the issues that I have outlined, many organizations have resumed their activities and are deploying teams and staff to areas outside the capital as and when the security situation permits. Some NGOs were able to maintain their operations in parts of the country that were less affected by looting and violence. We need to support them, and we need to do what we can to make sure that they are joined and supported by other organizations.
Those organisations – including UN agencies - that have had their offices and warehouses looted also need funds so they can quickly rebuild their operational capacity and be ready to expand their operations as soon as access is restored country-wide.
But we are not simply waiting for this to happen. We are negotiating with Seleka authorities and other forces in areas outside of the capital so that our partners can have access to people affected and so that they can gradually begin to return to the provinces.
Q: Given the acute shortage of funds, what is being done to continue aid programmes in the short term?
The Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has provided$7 million to support humanitarian response in CAR, and the country’s Common Humanitarian Fund (a pooled fund that provides early, predictable funding) has been activated to provide funds for critical needs. So far, this fund has received about $4.25 million.
But, as I said, additional funding is urgently required to restock supplies and ensure that humanitarian agencies can respond to increasing needs. Medical supplies, food and nutrition aid, and the provision of water, sanitation and hygiene services are all essential.
Interviewed by Laura Fultang, OCHA CAR