Humanitarian Crisis in CAR Escalates

Photo By: Pierre Holtz/UNICEF

The number of children and families in the Central African Republic (CAR) fleeing their homes continues to grow, as the security situation remains volatile and the humanitarian crisis worsens.

In the capital of Bangui, the number of internally displaced people grew from 52,000 on December 6 to 189,000 on December 15 following a spike in sectarian violence, the United Nations reports. The death toll surpassed 500 in a week. 

“The reports we are getting from our members on the ground are extremely troubling,” said Samuel A. Worthington, president and CEO of InterAction, an alliance of more than 180 U.S.-based NGOs. “The situation was already dire. Increased insecurity has made it even more difficult for life-saving aid to reach children and families in desperate need. Critical action is needed now.”

The Inter-Agency Standing Committee last week declared the CAR a level-3 emergency – the most severe. The move obligates agencies to immediately and dramatically increase their staffing and funding levels to respond to the crisis. 

The conflict in the CAR has led to the displacement of more than 550,000 people within the country, according to the UN. As people abandon their villages along the main roads for fear of attack from marauding militias, they are forced to find shelter in their fields, where without adequate housing they are exposed to malaria and illnesses due to rough living conditions. Others are sheltering in churches and mosques.

Cases of sexual violence and rape against girls have been reported to the UN, and children are increasingly victims of violence and targeted for forced recruitment, UNICEF said. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization said Thursday that 1.3 million people need emergency food assistance due to civil unrest, an increase from 1.1 million last month.

The French government sent additional troops to the CAR, a former French colony, after the UN Security Council backed a mandate to restore order. The U.S. announced it will fly in African and European peacekeepers, and President Barack Obama has urged the transitional government to join Muslim and Christian communities in calling for calm and peace.

Rebel leader Michel Djotodia ousted President Francois Bozize in March, sparking months of bloody clashes between rival Muslim and Christian fighters, according to news reports.