Central African Republic: The world can no longer ignore the humanitarian catastrophe

By International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)
Central African Republic: The world can no longer ignore the humanitarian catastrophe
Central African Republic: The world can no longer ignore the humanitarian catastrophe

GENEVA, Switzerland, January 17, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- By Antoine Mbao Bogo, president of the Central African Republic Red Cross Society

Over the course of the past year, the Central African Republic (CAR) has witnessed nation-wide civil unrest which resulted in the overthrow of its government. In the months that followed, the situation has not stabilized, and in fact, became worse in December with an increase in inter-communal violence.

A humanitarian disaster has been unfolding in CAR, which may affect the country for many years to come. Much of it went underreported for months, absent from the headlines and unattended. A silent disaster.

The world is now paying attention, following the news that hundreds of people have died due to the violence. However, over past months close to one million people have been forced from their villages, their homes and even their country. Most left in fear for their lives and now have no access to shelter, food, sanitation or health care. The Central African Red Cross Society and its 17,500 volunteers have been first-hand witnesses of the crisis and responded to the needs of the most vulnerable on a shoestring budget, with a strong commitment but facing growing challenges.

Such silent disasters are the daily burden of local organizations like Red Cross Red Crescent national National Societies, fully embedded in vulnerable communities. While these disasters affect millions of people, they receive neither the attention nor the resources they need.

In Darfur, a ten year war between the Sudan Government and indigenous groups has affected close to 3 million people, with the international community largely overlooking the situation. A civil war in Sierra Leone in the 1990s left more than 50,000 people dead and over 2 million displaced, again while the international community – for the most part – stood by, idle.

The situation currently unfolding in CAR is critical. All signs are showing that the country is on the edge of a massive humanitarian catastrophe. Insecurity makes it virtually impossible to launch a large-scale humanitarian assistance programme without risking the lives of those who want to help. This is neither tolerable nor acceptable. Every individual has the right to access health services, food and vital supplies. They currently are not receiving that.

Today, the Central African Red Cross Society is one of the very few organizations operating in all areas, supporting families and providing assistance on a neutral basis. But this is not enough and the support needs to be urgently scaled up if we are serious in our response.

People in CAR need almost everything. More than 935,0001[1] people are now displaced in the country and a great number of these are children. In Bangui the situation is very difficult because of the displaced people, but in the countryside it is becoming unbearable; hospitals have run out of drugs, food supply is scarce, schools are closed, and those who are displaced often have no access to shelter or proper sanitation.

In the long term, agriculture and the fragile economy will be negatively affected. In addition, thousands of people have already left, seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. These numbers are growing every day, and cause additional stresses across the entire region.

As with any conflict, disaster compounds disaster. In CAR, malaria is killing more people than ever because they have lost all means of protection and treatment. Next month, the rainy season will come, putting at risk thousands of people who are already very vulnerable.

The pressure on health structures is immense and displacement is further expanding health risks, such as malaria outbreaks. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the Central African Red Cross Society with other partners including the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, will immediately start a large-scale distribution of malaria treatment to health providers. We will start in the capital city of Bangui and expand as soon as possible nationally. This should have a dramatic impact on the lives of those affected.

The Central African Republic needs more support from the international community to overcome this crisis. The latest developments in the country give us hope that a peaceful political solution can be found and that our country will soon be able to heal. In the meantime, we call on all parties to facilitate unhindered access for humanitarian workers to address the plight of the civilian population caught in the conflict.