Central African Republic: Amid looting, 300 UN and NGO staff relocated

In CAR, the lack of basic infrastructure and access to water and sanitation posted health poblems for residents. Insecurity has aggravated the humanitarian situation there. Photo by: Imanol Berakoetxea / European Commission / ECHO

One day after the Séléka rebel coalition overran the Central African Republic capital of Bangui, the country head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs described an unpredictable and unstable security situation that is hampering nearly all aid relief efforts in the city and could call for an increased need for international humanitarian aid funding.

“U.N. and NGO offices have been looted and vehicles stolen,” Central African Republic head of OCHA Amy Martin wrote in an email to Devex on Monday afternoon (March 25). “Private residences and guest houses have been looted and looting continues in some neighborhoods. Roughly 300 UN and NGO staff have been relocated to Yaoundé [Cameroon] this evening.”

As of Monday, about 40 U.N. staff members remained in Bangui to assess the security situation, housed at the U.N. Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic, or BINUCA.

“Minimal support by medical NGOs to the hospitals in Bangui is being carried out. NGOs in the interior of the country are not affected by this crisis and have been able to keep their programs ongoing,” said Martin. “However, in Bangui, electricity was cut off on Thursday afternoon (March 21), water cut soon after and on Friday [March 22] Séléka arrived. Water has come back on line Monday.”

Looting is the main concern in Bangui, according to Martin, who described the security situation as “unpredictable.” Doctors Without Borders and the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has appealed for those “engaging in hostilities to spare civilians”, are both still present in the capital, she said.

There are 1.5 million people in the Central African Republic in need of humanitarian assistance, according to U.N. estimates. That number is set to increase due to intensified fighting and violence that first spiked in December 2012, when the Séléka rebel coalition undertook a series of attacks on major towns.

The political situation in the Central African Republic has since deteriorated, despite the peace agreement brokered between the rebel faction and the government on Jan. 11, 2013, which briefly resulted in a ceasefire agreement opposition figures now claim the government has reneged upon.

The president of the Central African Republic, François Bozizé, fled on Sunday and on Monday was reported to have emerged in Cameroon.

The same day, the head of the rebel movement pledged to name a power-sharing government. Meanwhile, the African Union on Monday suspended the Central African Republic.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a return to constitutional order in the Central African Republic and said that the U.N. is taking “all precautions” to protect its staff.

“[Ban Ki-moon] is concerned by the dire humanitarian situation in the country and the reports of ongoing looting in the capital, Bangui, including of United Nations property,” Ban’s spokesperson said in a statement.

The Central African Republic recently revised its 2013 humanitarian appeal with an increase of roughly $40 million, according to Martin. However, she expects, given the new situation in Bangui and surrounding areas, that the plan will have to be revised.

Nevertheless, she cautioned, the long-term implications of this surge in violence and looting are “too difficult to say.”

“Access will be a challenge if we are unable to re-establish bases and fuel supplies to reach the interior of the country,” said Martin. “The rainy season is fast approaching and that will hamper road movement in July, when some areas will be impassible.”

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About the author

  • Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is the U.N. Correspondent for Devex. She covers the United Nations and reports on global development and politics. Amy previously worked as a freelance reporter, covering the environment, human rights, immigration, and health across the U.S. and in more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, and Cambodia. Her coverage has appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times. A native New Yorker, Amy received her master’s degree in politics and government from Columbia’s School of Journalism.

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