Security risks push humanitarians out of Central African Republic, even as need grows

An aid worker looks toward a makeshift camp for displaced people in Bangui, Central African Republic. Photo by: Jean-Pierre Mustin / ECHO / CC BY-NC-ND

ABIDJAN — A deteriorating security situation in the Central African Republic is threatening to undermine an already frail and underfunded aid response to one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Attacks against humanitarian workers and ongoing violence have pushed relief organizations out of key regions, despite 52 percent of the country’s population needing immediate assistance.

Eleven aid workers have lost their lives in CAR since the beginning of 2017, and the International NGO Safety Organisation has recorded 232 instances targeting humanitarians, including attacks on NGO premises and convoys and during assessment missions. Aid workers have also been held temporarily by various armed factions, and in some cases, tortured, Joseph Inganji, head of office for U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in CAR, told Devex.

“Instances perpetrated against humanitarians represent 30 percent of the global incidents against humanitarians, which means Central African Republic is the most dangerous place for humanitarians to work,” Inganji told Devex.

Some 2.4 million of CAR’s 4.6 million people require some type of humanitarian assistance, making it one of the highest per capita caseloads in the world. While fleeing violence, many have hidden in forested areas, increasing the possibility of malnutrition, acute respiratory infections, and waterborne illnesses during the country’s current rainy season. Among the greatest concerns is for children out of school, which Inganji said could soon translate into more child recruitment by armed groups, only continuing the cycle of violence in the country.

Citing safety concerns to staff, aid groups have abandoned missions at numerous locations across east, west, and northwestern towns in the interior of the country. Humanitarians have largely been relocated to the capital, Bangui, leaving needy populations behind.

Low funding has exacerbated the pull-out. Less than 30 percent of the $497.3 million that the U.N. says it needs for 2017 has been allocated. “As a result, we have seen the humanitarian community and NGOs readjust and ‘risk fracturing’ their presence and programs, closing bases in certain locations because of lack of funding and only remaining positioned in strategic areas,” Inganji said.

The most recent insecurity in CAR dates back five years, to a politically fueled conflict between so-called Seleka and “Anti-balaka” rebel groups. Inganji estimates that two-thirds of the country is now under the control of armed groups. Eighty percent of the population relies on agriculture, which has become largely impossible amid ongoing violence and displacement.

In recent months, the number of registered internally displaced persons fell slightly from 600,000 in July to a current 592,000. However, Inganji explained that this is not due to a reduction in violence. Instead, locals fleeing have started crossing the borders to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, or Chad. “IDPs have started running away from the interior of the country to neighboring countries because they don’t see the situation improving anytime soon,” he said.

UNOCHA CAR and partners continue to assist 1.8 million people, including more than 600,000 IDPs at 91 IDP sites and host communities. But it, and other relief organizations, are struggling to keep pace with the swiftly moving conflict. New displacements are forcing U.N. agencies to revise the humanitarian response plan, Inganji noted. “For example in eastern CAR, this was an area where we thought recovery activities could start, but now we are in conflict situation there.”

To cope with diminishing access, aid organizations are working more with local NGOs.

Inganji also said emergency teams are ready to provide aid if, and when, a window of opportunity opens. “They are able to fly quickly and provide the much needed assistance, then come out.”

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About the author

  • Christin Roby

    Christin Roby worked as the West Africa Correspondent for Devex, covering global development trends, health, technology, and policy. Before relocating to West Africa, Christin spent several years working in local newsrooms and earned her master of science in videography and global affairs reporting from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Her informed insight into the region stems from her diverse coverage of more than a dozen African nations.