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Increased violence and displacement put millions at risk, raise international concerns

Central African Republic, November 1, 2013

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  • The country's flag is painted on a tree outside a police station in the Central African Republic. Increased violence in the region has left 400,000 people displaced from their homes and 1.6 million at risk from food shortages, putting the country on the verge a massive humanitarian crisis. Photo: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps
  • We've been focused on protecting women and children in CAR since 2007 with counseling centers for victims of violence and play therapy groups for displaced children. Photo: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

The Central African Republic (CAR) has long suffered from chronic emergency conditions, but 2013 has been particularly volatile.

When the rebel group Seleka overthrew the capital and seized control in March, the chaos once again put the country on the brink of collapse.

Since then, continued lawlessness has interrupted basic services and the number of people in need only continues to grow. Almost 400,000 people are now displaced inside CAR, and another 220,000 have fled the country altogether. Food shortages have worsened, currently affecting 1.6 million children and families.

The increasingly dire conditions are fueling severe violence and pillaging of homes across the region.

In response to the escalating situation, emergency directors of UN agencies and international NGOs, including Mercy Corps, met in the Central African Republic last month. The purpose of the mission was to evaluate the extent of the humanitarian crisis and make recommendations for how to increase aid in the country.

Emergency directors meetings of this caliber are held only under the most critical circumstances. There have been just two other evaluations by the group this year, regarding Syria's ongoing civil war and the mix of conflict, natural disasters and displacement plaguing Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In CAR, volatile armed forces threaten civilian safety and debilitate infrastructure. Strained resources exacerbate poverty, and families, fearing attack, flee their homes to find refuge in neighboring woods or refugee compounds.

The emergency directors visited several sites where these displaced families have gathered. In remote northwest CAR, over 30,000 people have sought refuge in a church compound. Another 2,000 have united on neighboring school grounds. Without adequate food, security or latrines, conditions in both areas are sordid — but families, threatened by the presence of armed militia, choose to stay there rather than return to their homes.

The mission in the Central African Republic also included meetings with a range of stakeholders, including religious leaders, local NGOs and representatives of Seleka, now the government of the country.

While the directors’ recommendations are still being finalized, one thing is certain: The country is on the verge of a massive crisis. The international community must intervene now to stop human suffering in the country and prevent conflict from escalating beyond control.

Mercy Corps has been working in CAR — one of the poorest countries in the world — since 2007, addressing the growing needs of people affected by both conflict and poverty.

In response to the enduring violence there, we’ve focused on programs to help victims of assault — especially women and children — access medical and legal services. We also distribute emergency cash to displaced families to buy food and essential items like cooking supplies and shelter materials.

And our longer-term initiatives like installing wells in remote communities and building life skills in youth — the generation that can affect change — work to make communities in the CAR more resilient despite the unstable landscape they live in.

Read an interview with CAR staff about how they're working through the continued insecurity ▸