Multisectoral assistance despite multiple challenges
Little Rose was born only half an hour after the new health post in Siwa village opened. In January, her parents fled clashes 30 km from Bangassou in the south-east of the Central African Republic. Like Rose and her parents, more than 44,500 people have fled to the outskirts of Bangassou and the Democratic Republic of Congo in January and February, following the recent outbreak of violence in relation to the elections. Some are living in six sites for internally displaced people (IDP) near the city of Bangassou, while others have found refuge with host families. Despite the insecurity in the region, humanitarian organizations are providing multi-sectoral assistance to the displaced people.
Emergency medical assistance
The Siwa site, located 12 km from Bangassou, hosts 5,676 displaced people. Several childbirths without medical assistance had led to maternal and infant deaths in recent weeks, before the health post opened. At its opening, the World Health Organization (WHO) provided the health post with supplies to assist safe childbirth and essential medicines for a period of one month. Moreover, the NGO Médecins d'Afrique runs a mobile clinic that comes to the Siwa site and other IDP sites once a week for nutritional screenings and to refer survivors of sexual and gender-based violence to the Bangassou Hospital for medical care. The NGO also runs an emergency vaccination campaign at the IDP sites in and near Bangassou.
Insecurity, logistical challenges and the lack of nutritional supplements limit the capacity of humanitarian health organizations to respond to people’s needs. Access to the 147 displaced families on Limbongo Island, for example, is a particular challenge as the dropping water level of the Mbomou River does not allow the use of the only boat available in the region.
« We didn't take anything with us when we fled from our village. We spent three weeks in the bush, eating taros and wild yams. When we arrived in Siwa, the village chief and those who live there helped us, » said Yangbo Rollande, a displaced woman. In the Central African Republic, the vast majority of the displaced are generously taken in by host families who share what little they have. But in Siwa, the number of displaced people was three times higher than the number of inhabitants, putting further pressure on already scarce resources, mainly outputs from small-scale farming. In an emergency response, the World Food Programme distributed in mid-February 12 tonnes of food to 872 families at the Siwa site. The 15-day food ration consisted of high energy biscuits, rice, beans, oil, salt and a fortified blend of corn and soya. Planning for the next food distribution is currently underway.
And the provision of non-food items
In mid-February, the NGO ACTED distributed essential household items to 236 families at the Bangui Ngoro IDP site. Each household received a package consisting of a tarpaulin, a blanket, a mosquito net, a mat, soap and a bag. Access to drinking water remains one of the most pressing needs of the displaced people. To address this issue, ACTED distributed 60 water purification tablets to each household, providing them with safe drinking water for a month. In addition to the people in Bangui Ngoro, IDPs at the Nzakou Mbemba and Siwa sites – more than 2,500 families in total – have also received household items.
"If we were to prioritize, the most important needs would be water, hygiene and sanitation, household items and food security. Even if we have already set up a response to address the most important needs, we don't have enough resources to cover everything", said Margot Charles, ACTED's Deputy Area Coordinator for Basse-Kotto and Mbomou.
Unmet needs remain
In January and February, more than 16,000 IDPs in Bangassou received multi-sectoral humanitarian assistance. Although humanitarian organizations are making great efforts to respond to the emergency, many needs remain unmet. More than 2,500 displaced households living at the Siwa site have no access to safe drinking water. The two sources that serve this locality are not maintained and consuming the water can lead to water-borne diseases. Latrines and showers are also lacking at the Siwa, Limbongo Island and Cesacoba sites. Following a needs assessment on March 4, the NGO Mercy Corps will provide an emergency response by building latrines and setting up two water sources for the benefit of more than 1,000 families at the Siwa site.
Access to people in need of humanitarian assistance remains difficult due to insecurity and the continued presence of armed groups in the region of Bangassou. For weeks, humanitarian actors have only been able to reach those up to 15 km from Bangassou. At the end of February, the villages of Niakari and Loungougba, located about 20 km from the city, became accessible following the withdrawal of armed elements. A health assessment carried out by WHO, Médecins Sans Frontières and the NGO COOPI on 26 and 27 February revealed that access to health care has become very difficult in these villages. All health facilities have been looted and vandalized by armed elements and health staff have fled. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and its partners are coordinating the emergency response and are continuing to assess humanitarian needs in other locations that are becoming newly accessible around Bangassou.
Logistics are also hampering humanitarian activities. On some routes, for example, bridges have been destroyed by armed groups, preventing access to remote areas. Despite these difficulties, humanitarians continue their efforts to assist the internally displaced. They also pursue negotiations to open up humanitarian corridors in areas under the control of armed groups.