Clashes in Ouham and Ouham-Pendé displace tens of thousands
Clashes between armed groups and the Central African Armed Forces, supported by bilateral forces, along the north-westerly border have forced several ten thousands of women, men and children to flee. Their precarious living conditions have further deteriorated and basic needs for protection, water, food and healthcare continue to soar, in a region where 80 per cent of the population needed humanitarian assistance already before the current turmoil.
The situation at the border between the Central African Republic, Chad and Cameroon remains volatile and a number of sub-prefectures are affected, notably Koui, Ngaoundaye, Paoua, Markounda, Batangafo and Kabo. People move back and forth between places of refuge – the surrounding bush, neighbouring villages and towns across the border – and their homes and fields, in constant search of protecting their lives and livelihoods.
Acts of violence against civilians, including physical assaults, lootings, sexual and gender-based violence and robberies are widespread, as are attacks against civilian infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals, as well as humanitarian workers.
A significant rise in sexual and gender-based violence targets women and girls, particularly in the fields, forests and en route, underlying the risk they face when going about daily chores and agriculture. Analysis from May highlights the protection crisis for women and girls in Markounda, where nearly 60 per cent of the 86 cases of gender-based violence registered were rapes, of which 92 per cent were committed by armed elements.
The insecurity in the north-western border region severely restricts access for humanitarians to the most vulnerable, including the elderly, single-headed families and people with disabilities. The risk of attacks by armed groups and crime rates are high. In June 2021, Ouham and Ouham Pendé prefectures were the most affected by incidents against humanitarians with 11 and 6 incidents, respectively. A civilian was killed and three injured, including a humanitarian, in an ambush on the transfer of patients to a medical facility supported by Médecins sans frontières (MSF) in Batangafo. As this was the third such incident within a few weeks, MSF suspended medical assistance on the axes. Trucks bound for Bocaranga and Ndim, delivering food on behalf of the World Food Programme (WFP), have also been blocked due to the persistent risk of attacks.
The increased threat of explosive devices since April and physical access restrictions such as collapsed bridges and impassable roads during the current rainy season further complicate humanitarian access.
Assisting those in hard-to-reach areas
In an emergency response on 21 June, UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, OCHA and the NGO Action contre la faim flew a three-month supply of medications and nutritional supplements for 10,000 people to Bang and Ngaouandaye in Ouham-Pendé, thanks to the availability of a helicopter from the UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS). Soap, hygiene products and water purification tabs were also distributed to the most vulnerable, including pregnant women and mothers of small children.
In mid-June, two helicopter rotations operated by humanitarian partners to Bocaranga assisted 1,000 displaced families with 1.3 tons of water treatment tabs, hygiene products, medication, nutritional supplements and post-exposure prophylaxis kits for 25 survivors of sexual violence. These flights also enabled an international organisation to conduct a needs assessment in Ndim, which revealed dire needs for protection, water, food and healthcare. The UN peacekeeping mission MINUSCA facilitated the humanitarian flights by providing fuel and securing the airstrips.
Despite the insecurity, UNHCR and IOM could assist 600 families who returned after having fled clashes in Bélé et Gangan on two outlying axes of Paoua with essential household items and hygiene products on 8 and 13 July.
In Kabo and Sido in Ouham, nearly 21,000 people were newly displaced between the end of April and June. Some 36,000 newly and previously displaced people could be reached with WFP food assistance in the two localities in late June. Humanitarians attend to patients at the MSF-supported local hospital, refer survivors of sexual and gender-based violence for medical care and monitor and record protection incidents. More than 302,000 people need humanitarian assistance in the region, making Ouham the prefecture with the second highest number of people in need in 2021. Among them are 83,000 people in severe acute food insecurity.
In June, an estimated 30,000 people were displaced in the Ngaoundaye, Bocaranga and Koui sub-prefectures due to military operations that have been ongoing since March and clashes at the border with Chad at the end of May. In addition to the assistance provided in June by air, humanitarian partners continue mobilizing to provide food and basic household items to the most vulnerable, improve water supply and provide the hospital with urgently needed medications. Humanitarian actors have scaled up preposition of food, medicines, nutrition, non-food and other critical relief items. Access to water also remains a major concern in Ngaoundaye, where less than half of the town’s 17 boreholes are functional and the consumption of unsafe water puts people’s health at risk.
Insecurity across the north-west considerably limits people’s freedom to move, and hence their ability to obtain a sufficient and balanced nutrition through agriculture, hunting, trade and purchase. People in Ndim remain within a five-kilometre perimeter from town for fear of attacks and exactions – a situation characteristic for many towns in the region. As a consequence, food prices have sharply increased in Bocaranga, Paoua, Markounda and Kabo in mid-June compared to May due to supply challenges – up to 75 per cent for corn – in a region, where four out of five sub-prefectures had already attained the emergency phase of food insecurity in May.
To improve food security where access to fields is possible, the NGO OXFAM distributed in mid-July seeds and tools to 300 families in Pougol, Nzéréké and Benamkor near Paoua. Each farming family received 18 kg of cowpea and 1 kg of sesame seeds, and tarps, containers and bags to preserve their harvest. To accompany these farmers, 20 members of the community were trained on the specifics of these plants to maximize harvests.
Food security in the north-west risks to further deteriorate during this lean season, if insecurity and access restrictions persist.