Alarming rise in displacement across the Central African Republic
A surge in violence has displaced over 276,000 people within the Central African Republic. More than half of the displaced have returned in recent weeks but 129,000 people remain displaced inside the country. Most live in deplorable conditions in the bushes surrounding their villages in fear of renewed attacks. And new people are forced to flee almost every day with no end in sight to the current crisis. In addition to the internally displaced, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has registered more than 45,000 newly arrived refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Chad and the Republic of Congo.
This new wave of violence and displacement began in mid-December ahead of the general elections and adds on to decades of armed violence, which was topped last year with the Covid-19 pandemic, increasing humanitarian needs in the Central African Republic to new heights. While this latest armed offensive was launched in the west, attacks and displacement have since spread across the country, affecting also the center and south-east and sparing only few regions.
Deplorable living conditions and urgent humanitarian needs
Most displaced people have found temporary refuge in fields and forests near their towns, which they consider safer. Some return to their homes during the day to fetch household items or personal belongings or in search of food and water, only to return to the fields for the night. Others have found protection at schools, in churches, near the bases of UN peacekeepers or with host families.
In view of ongoing violence, protection is among the displaced people’s most urgent needs. Sexual violence against women and girls and child protection issues such as unaccompanied and separated children and forced recruitment have been reported. Humanitarian assessments further show that food, primary healthcare, water and sanitation, basic household items and shelter are the most pressing humanitarian needs. Even before the most recent displacement crisis, one in four Central Africans, nearly 1.3 million people, were displaced in the country or across its borders.
Saving lives under most difficult conditions
Despite the growing insecurity in many parts of the country, humanitarian partners have been scaling up their efforts to save lives and provide emergency response assistance to the displaced and those most in need. They support hospitals with medical teams and essential medicines, supply people with drinking water, distribute food and build latrines to prevent the spread of diseases. The volatile security context demands highest flexibility and readiness from humanitarians.
In early January, obstructed road access to Dékoa in the central Kémo Prefecture was overcome thanks to a helicopter and 2,000 families displaced by armed groups’ attacks could be provided with water purification tablets, high energy biscuits and medicines. A rapid needs assessment under the lead of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) during the same mission provided the basis for other humanitarian partners who scaled up the response in Dékoa in the days after. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) provided food assistance to over 10,000 families, the NGOs Médecins d’Afrique (MDA) resumed its nutritional support and Médecins du Monde (MDM) established a presence in Dékoa to support access to health care and psychosocial services and to support survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, including the most vulnerable displaced outside the city. In addition to Dékoa, humanitarians have reached four other hard-to-access areas by helicopter since mid-December – Bouca and Batangafo (Ouham Prefecture), Dimbi (Basse-Kotto) and Ouango (Mbomou) – to deploy rapid assessments teams and to deliver much needed humanitarian cargo.
In the western town of Bouar in Nana-Mambéré Prefecture, humanitarian organizations assist 12,500 newly displaced people, the majority of whom now live in churches and parishes. Water pumps are being repaired and bladders installed to cater for the increased demand of drinking water at those displacement sites. High energy biscuits, flour, beans, oil and salt are being distributed, health facilities are supplied with essential medicines and nutritional supplements to treat children suffering from malnutrition.
And in Bangassou, in the south-eastern Mbomou Prefecture, humanitarians await with stoical calmness each safety window that allows them to reach displaced people. They have already assisted 15,000 people with food and water, shelters and emergency latrines and nutrition support for malnourished children, including at the Cesacoba sites and other displacement sites in and around Bangassou.
In Batangafo in the north-western Ouham Prefecture, where 30,000 internally displaced people had been living at sites before the current crisis, over 600 people arrived since January 2021, fleeing the upsurge of violence in Bouca, where most of them were already displaced. Thanks to access by helicopter, humanitarian partners ensured that those people have access to water and received essential household items and hygiene products.
Humanitarians face more challenges than ever
Despite major achievements in assisting people in these difficult times, the work of humanitarians is getting more and more challenging. While the population is the main victim of the conflict, humanitarians have been increasingly targeted, including with offices being looted and vehicles stolen. The month of December 2020 has seen 59 incidents against humanitarian personnel and property, including an aid worker killed and five others injured – almost double the monthly average of incidents recorded in 2020. January 2021 has continued in the same precarious way with 66 incidents recorded, the highest ever.
The disruption of the country’s main supply route connecting the capital Bangui with Cameroon prevents the safe and timely delivery of vital aid. Over 500 trucks with critical UN and partners’ supplies, including food and medicines, have been stuck at the Cameroonian border since mid-December, along with over 1,100 trucks transporting commercial goods. These constraints on an already fragile food supply are again driving up the prices of basic food commodities and jeopardize the lives of those 1.9 million Central Africans already food insecure. Furthermore, the state of emergency declared on 21 January 2021 has been extended for six months until early August, in addition to a countrywide curfew (20:00 to 5:00) put in place after an attempted attack on the capital Bangui on 13 January, with restrictive effects on humanitarian access to people in need.
As of 17 March 2021, only 16 per cent of the Humanitarian Response Plan for the Central African Republic were funded, at a time when humanitarian needs are more pressing than ever. Urgent funding is required to sustain principled and effective humanitarian response.