People need peace: Standing with the people of the Central African Republic
Over the past three years the Central African Republic (CAR) has undergone political turmoil and violent conflict, which has left over half of the population in dire need of humanitarian assistance. In recent months the security situation has deteriorated, with community tensions and sectarian violence on the rise. Here, Najat Rochdi, the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in CAR, reports on the situation.
After visiting communities across the Central African Republic since taking up office, I have witnessed both the deep levels of devastation brought about by conflict and the resilience of many families despite their deprivation as they endure dire living conditions in displacement camps or in host communities. I have seen flashes of light in people’s lives where aid agencies have delivered assistance. And I have witnessed a collective sense of relief in areas where security has been restored. Around 20,000 internally displaced people have finally returned home after more than three years, including families who had sought refuge at M’Poko International Airport in the capital Bangui.
Clawing back progress
Recovery projects supporting young men and women with resources and skills to provide for their families have started to bear fruit in some towns with relative stability. Sadly, the latest outburst of violence risks wiping out this fragile recovery. It has thrust the country to levels of conflict unseen in two years. Multiple hot spots of unrest have sprung up. Entire towns have been emptied, houses burnt down, and women and children brutally killed. More than 100,000 people have fled their homes. Once again, religion is being instrumentalized so the violence is perceived as an inter-faith conflict rather than a much more complex problem.
The proportion of people in need of relief assistance is among the highest in the world: nearly one in two Central Africans depends on aid to survive. For the first time in two years, the number of internally displaced people has surpassed 500,000, and almost as many continue to live as refugees in the neighbouring countries. More than one in five Central African families has been uprooted from their home.
As humanitarians, we must protect and assist people in need. Save lives. Provide food, water, medical treatment. But our means to respond to these needs are dramatically over-stretched. Funding for the Central African Republic has never been so low. Having received just 30 per cent of the required funds amid a new outbreak of violence, it is very difficult to fulfil our humanitarian duty.
The consequences are real and severe. Humanitarians are forced to scale down operations or cut back on the quality and amount of assistance they provide. Some aid agencies have had to shut down activities in certain localities because they have no resources to keep an office open.
A vicious cycle
Facing limited capacities and resources, humanitarian actors are increasingly focusing on the new hot spots of violence and displacement. At the same time, aid organizations are struggling to maintain assistance in communities that, while in relative security, remain highly vulnerable. And protracted emergencies in the country’s central and eastern regions, if further neglected, will deteriorate fast, escalating needs. The effects of this vicious cycle will be disastrous for the country and risk destabilizing the region.
Stepping up aid
For Central Africans, the path towards recovery has been hard in the past three years. Many are now, again, struggling for survival. We owe them assistance so they can preserve their dignity. We owe them a chance for options and a better life.
Addressing the crisis, without leaving anyone behind, requires a strong engagement by all partners. We must urgently step up our support and resources, otherwise a window of opportunity will shut. We urge donors to fulfil pledges made at the November 2016 Brussels Conference. This assistance is critical for the Government to realize its five-year recovery and peace consolidation plan.
What may seem like a heavy price today will prevent a much steeper bill tomorrow. This is not the time to let the people of the Central African Republic down. This is not the time to give up on peace.
Now is the time to act.