In Central Africa, aid groups starting from scratch

Francois Bozizé, president of the Central African Republic. Photo by: Etienne Ansotte / © European Communities

A fragile “unity” government in the Central African Republic may have been formed, but aid groups are reporting that their future is far from sorted. Short on cash, they will have to start almost from scratch after weeks of violence have left staff in fear and operations in shambles.

Not a single dollar in aid has been committed by international donors since violent clashes almost toppled President Francois Bozizé in December 2012, a source with the United Nations told Devex. And yet, some humanitarian workers who stayed in the country have begun to conduct rapid needs assessments in areas controlled by rebel forces.

What they saw, however, is a system of aid delivery in distress: staff fearing for their safety, logistical challenges and a paralyzed civil service, among others.

No pledges yet

Last year, the Bozizé administration was on a brink of collapse when the Séléka force, a coalition of three armed groups formed in 2012, captured major cities across the country. It didn’t appear to capture much attention among international donors.

“No pledges have been registered since the crisis broke out in December 2012,” Amy Martin, bureau chief of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in CAR, told Devex.

When a peace accord was signed Sunday that gave opposition and rebel leaders key posts in a new government, it was hailed as a major breakthrough. Since then, however, the aid community has been relatively quiet.

“For the moment, no pledging conference is being planned,” Martin told Devex. “Discussed, yes, but not yet planned.”

The United Nations has called for $129.3 million in humanitarian aid for CAR this year. Much of the money would go toward food ($30.9 million), refugees ($20.5 million), protection ($13.8 milion), water, sanitation and hygiene ($13.76 million), and health ($12.9 million).

While about 600,000 people are in need of humanitarian aid in CAR, the international community’s focus might be elsewhere.

“The situation has been eclipsed by Mali,” Martin noted.

Last week, the African Union organized a donors’ conference for Mali. Pledges reached $455 million.

Little steps

Severe funding gaps are affecting all aid groups on the ground.

For instance, Martin said, “To date, there have been limited funds provided to U.N. Humanitarian Air Service, enabling movement of aid workers to the field.”

Still, OCHA and some of its NGO partners have conducted rapid assessments in six cities since Jan. 14, when aid workers were allowed to visit Séléka-controlled areas after Bozizé struck a cease-fire deal with rebels.

Aid workers remain cautious, though.

“We know the situation could change dramatically,” Vincent Pouget, communications delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross in CAR, told Devex. “So we prefer to wait a bit more for the situation to be more stable. That’s what the case [when the rapid assessment mechanism was conducted].”

Following the ceasefire deal, Bozizé struck a power-sharing deal with the rebel coalition that would keep him in office until 2016.

‘Start from scratch’

The formation of a new government also creates new challenges for the aid community.

“It’s another authority,” Pouget noted. “We have to build again compacts to start again projects.”

It’s even harder for aid workers who packed their bags during the crisis.

“One of the challenges for the humanitarian organizations [that left the country] will be to start from the scratch again,” Pouget told Devex. “Before we were working with the civil servants and now the civil servants have left. They don’t feel comfortable in cities controlled by the armed groups.”

In its latest report, OCHA noted that a large number of health workers in Séléka-controlled regions who left during the fighting have not returned to their duty station, teachers have not come to schools and private transporters remain reluctant to pass conflict areas.

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About the author

  • John Alliage Morales

    As a former Devex staff writer, John Alliage Morales covered the Americas, focusing on the world's top donor hub, Washington, and its aid community. Prior to joining Devex, John worked for a variety of news outlets including GMA, the Philippine TV network, where he conducted interviews, analyzed data, and produced in-depth stories on development and other topics.