A new interim president in the Central African Republic was sworn in this week, but even as Catherine Samba-Panza pledged to bring peace to the warring country, extraordinary sectarian violence continues to plague the volatile nation.
Brutal attacks on civilians are being fueled by rival anti-balaka and Seleka militias, and the U.N. warns that the situation in CAR is on the verge of genocide.
“The element of fear is indescribable,” said Su’ad Jarbawi, Mercy Corps’ Team Leader for Strategic Response and Global Emergencies, on the ground in CAR. “The entire population lives in uncertainty and in continuous panic of losing their lives.”
In the capital of Bangui over half a million people are displaced — more than 100,000 crowded into a makeshift camp at the airport alone. Without latrines or sanitation facilities, the risk of disease spreading is high. Our peer educators — youth and young adults trained to provide life skills education — are at the site teaching families about proper hygiene practices, handwashing and water storage to help protect them from illness.
But with the most recent developments, rebel groups are leaving the capital and bringing a trail of violence with them.
“The events that hit Bangui caught the attention of the international community because of the number of people displaced and the presence of expatriates,” Jarbawi explained. “But we must not forget that the situation across the country remains dire. The hot spots in CAR are continuously moving. In August and September we were dealing with the attacks on Bossongoa, today we are fixated on Bangui and in a few weeks the attacks will move to another part of the country. The entire country is unstable with the potential of exploding at any given moment.”
In fact, violence recently uprooted our team last week in Bouar, northwest of the capital, forcing them to shelter at a World Food Program compound.
Despite the insecure conditions and infrastructure challenges — minimal paved roads, a dysfunctional communication system and no banks or gas stations — our team there is leaving the compound daily to distribute food and continue the construction of wells and latrines for families displaced by the conflict.
According to Program Manager Alison Heyes, there are about seven sites where people have fled for safety from marauding Seleka fighters who are killing, looting and burning houses. "The chaos they have left on their way from Bangui to Bouar over the past two or three days is appalling, plus there's such carnage in nearby towns like Bossangoa, Bozoum and Bohong," she reported.
To respond to the sudden needs, we are working with partners to distribute two-week supplies of cooking oil, lentils, maize and Plumpy'Sup, a fortified peanut paste. Our two water and sanitation engineers are also helping the U.N. with delivering water and building emergency latrines.
Even as we act quickly to respond to emergency needs, we must focus on how to address the chronic instability of CAR and restore safety and security in the country.
“The current crisis in CAR did not start with the December 2013 events," noted Jarbawi. "This crisis started in December 2012 as a result of years of failed governance and lack of development. What we have now is a rapidly deteriorating security situation, an almost paralyzed economy and an eroding social fabric. All of this is underlined by a deepening humanitarian crisis.
“The humanitarian response will not have sustainable results if social cohesion and conflict resolution programs are not taking place,” she continued. “Restoring the social fabric is of utmost importance in order to allow people to regain trust in one another and work together for a better tomorrow.
“It is important to emphasize that all hope is not lost. We continue to have an opportunity to positively influence the course of action in this country.”
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