Conditions Deteriorate for Thousands Displaced by Violence in Central African Republic; IRC Launches Emergency Relief Effort
"An already dire situation is getting worse every day," says Bob Kitchen, who is leading the IRC mission. "This has reached the level of a humanitarian disaster."
Civilians are caught in the middle of a conflict that pits soldiers against a rebel group trying to overthrow the government. People in the northwest say they have no one to trust and nowhere to turn for help. Villages are being raided, looted and burned, civilians are being slaughtered and survivors are fleeing into the bush for safety. There, they are living out in the open without shelter or protection and next to no food, clean water, health services and basic supplies. Farming in this breadbasket region has become too risky, so food production has ground to a halt. Malnutrition rates are soaring and people are succumbing to preventable and treatable diseases. For those who remain in villages in this already destitute area, the violence only worsens their poverty.
Some 150,000 people are said to be internally displaced by the crisis and tens of thousands of others have fled to neighboring Chad and Cameroon.
An IRC emergency team is on the ground in the Central African Republic and is set to begin a humanitarian aid operation in and around the town of Kaga Bandoro in violence-torn Nana-Gribizi Prefecture. A recent assessment there found 54 charred and emptied villages along a 42 kilometer stretch of road. The inhabitants of the ruined villages, approximately 20,000 people, were hiding out in nearby forest.
"They all had to flee quickly, so they've lost everything," says Kitchen. "Most of them are drinking dirty water and are sick, but all clinics along the route were looted and shut down."
Kitchen says the only option for those who need medical attention is to travel to Kaga Bandoro Hospital, which lacks resources, equipment and enough medical staff to provide health care for the region. The facility is forced to charge for services and very few individuals can afford the fees.
In the coming weeks, the IRC will begin programs in coordination with the local health system aimed at improving, reviving and expanding health care services and making them more affordable for some 50,000 residents of the area. The emergency team will also begin constructing wells to increase access to clean water and distributing hygiene and other needed supplies including blankets and containers for water. The IRC plans to phase in special assistance for vulnerable children and women.