Central African Republic: A Deepening Crisis
When the long-running civil war in the Central African Republic (CAR) ended in 2007, observers hoped that peace would usher in a new era of economic recovery and development. Instead the country, already one of the world’s poorest, faces a devastating humanitarian crisis that threatens to plunge the population even deeper into misery.
According to the International Rescue Committee, large swatches of the country lack clean water and adequate food supplies while suffering from high infant and maternal mortality rates, soaring rates of HIV infection and inadequate health care. Last year, the United Nations ranked the CAR 178th out of 179 countries in “human development”—an indice that measures a country’s ability to guarantee its citizens a long and healthy life, access to education and a decent standard of living.
Moreover, decades of misrule, fighting between the government and rebels, and the ongoing menace of banditry have left people weakened and extremely vulnerable, said Boris Varnitzky, the IRC country director in CAR.
“Mortality among the population is very high,” Varnitzky said. “In rural areas, there are no ambulances or public transport. People who are sick walk long distances to get care because the vast majority of the population lives more than 10 kilometers (6 miles) from a health center. And even if they reach a health center it is unlikely they will see a doctor— there is only one for every 15,000 people.”
The county’s crisis has been made worse by massive displacement. After the civil war started in 2004, tens of thousands of people in the northern Nana-Grébizi region fled into the bush or across the border into Chad. After the 2007 peace deal many of displaced people started moving back to their villages only to find ruined shells where their homes once stood.
In the face of this unprecedented crisis, the IRC is providing aid and support to people in the country’s hardest hit areas. The IRC has provided nearly 30,000 people with drinking water, rehabilitated 2,500 houses and trained volunteer teachers who serve some 3,500 children. To help survivors of sexual violence the IRC has provided medical and psychosocial services to thousands of women and girls. The IRC has also trained over 500 former rebel soldiers, army officers and members of a Central African Economic Community (Cemac) peacekeeping force in international human rights law.
In the Nana-Grébizi region, the IRC is training local health staff and providing critically needed medicines in several rural health clinics and a hospital in the regional capital of Kaga Bandoro. Since 2007, the IRC has helped treat around 100,000 patients in the region.
“Our assistance to the Kaga Bandoro hospital helped lower the overall mortality rate there and in surrounding areas to three percent from nine percent,” Varnitzky said.
Even as the CAR struggles to recover from the war, ethnic strife and banditry continue to terrorize much of the country. As a result, some 190,000 people in the north of the country were forced to flee their homes last year, according to the United Nations.
Last year the IRC launched programs in Bocaranga, in the northwestern highlands, a region that is regularly plagued by masked highway bandits known as zaraguinas. The region, located near the borders with Cameroon and Chad, also suffers from extremely limited access to basic social services, exacerbating the people’s poor living conditions.
“Criminal gangs have become the greatest threat to civilians in the north,” Varnitzky said. “They engage in hostage-taking, armed robbery and extortion. They are largely responsible for a mass exodus of 63,000 people into neighboring Cameroon.”
“The myriad threats to people’s lives and safety, and the lack of the most basic services, have created a grave humanitarian crisis in the Central African Republic that requires immediate attention and long-term aid. When you look at this country’s basic social and economic indicators you quickly realize that the people here are actually in many cases worse off than people living in better known crisis areas such as Darfur and eastern Congo.”