Urgent action needed to assist over 1 million Central Africans – UN relief official

10 August 2009 – Urgent action by the international community is needed to assist humanitarian efforts in the Central African Republic (CAR), where conflict has left one-quarter of the population in need of assistance, a senior United Nations relief official said today.“It’s not like any other humanitarian situation I’ve run across,” Catherine Bragg, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, told reporters in New York.

Ms. Bragg, who visited the country in late July, said the number of people affected directly or indirectly by the effect of conflict in CAR is estimated by the humanitarian community to be more than 1 million people – out of a population of 4 million.

They live in fear of both the Government forces and any armed groups, and they live in totally deplorable conditions in the bush with very little basic necessities

She added that the CAR is one of the most impoverished countries in the world – second only to Sierra Leone by one measure – and remains beset by violence and widespread displacement in the north. This is in spite of some progress made last year with the Government embarking on a national dialogue and the signing of a peace agreement with rebel groups.

Most of the 1 million people in need of assistance are concentrated in the northern part of the country and amongst the affected population are 125,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 137,000 Central African refugees in Chad and Cameroon.

A major concern is the lack of funding for humanitarian work, she stressed, noting that funding has decreased significantly in 2009, compared to previous years. Current requirements amount to $97 million, of which $48 million remains outstanding. “Urgent action from the international community is required to support the efforts of humanitarian organizations,” stated Ms. Bragg.

The international community should also be encouraged to support the efforts of the Government to develop a legal framework to assist IDPs, she added. “I was actually struck by the lack of international pressure on the Government in terms of its responsibility to provide both humanitarian assistance and protection to displaced populations.”

Another major concern, she said, is lack of access to those in need, not just because of a lack of physical infrastructure, but because many people have fled their villages into the bush, sometimes just a few kilometres from their villages, and they are dispersed.

“This is a very traumatized population. Some of them have been displaced repeatedly in the past years,” said Ms. Bragg. “They live in fear of both the Government forces and any armed groups, and they live in totally deplorable conditions in the bush with very little basic necessities – no water, no food, no sanitation, no medical services [and] hardly anything to sustain themselves.”

Access is also hindered by the “unpredictable and volatile” security environment and, more recently, outright denial of humanitarian access by the national authorities, which she said were accusing some of the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) of supporting the rebels through humanitarian activities.

More recently, she added, humanitarian needs have increased due to attacks by the Ugandan rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the south-east and a rise in malnutrition in the south-western part of the country.

The Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator met with some of the IDPs during her visit, which took her to the capital, Bangui, as well as the towns of Birao, Kabo and Paoua. She also met with President François Bozizé and Prime Minister Faustin-Archange Touadera, and members of UN agencies, international and local NGOs and the diplomatic community.

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