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5 key challenges extraordinary aid workers face in the Central African Republic

Blandine Sixdenier
Blandine Sixdenier | March 8, 2017

Photo: BORIS HEGER, ICRC

One of the most dangerous places on the African continent, the Central African Republic remains in a fragile state today. Despite often hostile working conditions, relief workers continue to provide lifesaving assistance to many Central Africans. Aid workers in CAR face five major challenges:

Challenge 1. Security

While significant improvements were made to pave the way for lasting peace, including successful elections, the Central African Republic is plagued by instability. Although violence varies by region, the security situation deteriorated again in the second half of 2016 with armed groups striking throughout the country. Today, around 14 armed groups operate nationwide and fight over the control of resources.

Despite their humanitarian nature, NGOs have not been spared by armed groups’ and have been targeted since the beginning of the conflict. In 2016, more than 330 attacks were carried out against relief organisations, resulting in the death of 5 aid workers.

Twenty-four humanitarian workers have been killed since 2013.

Although direct threats are posed to their lives, and their facilities looted, relief workers continue to pursue their activities nationwide. More than 50 international NGOs and 65 national NGOs are currently present in CAR, conducting operations in some of the country’s most dangerous places to ensure the millions of Central Africans in need are not abandoned.

 

Challenge 2. Scale of humanitarian need

The entire population has been affected by the conflict. Today, 2.2 million people, roughly half of the population, are in need of humanitarian assistance to meet their basic needs.

The health system is almost non-existent, drinking water is scarce, 2 million people face hunger, 2 million people need protection from armed groups’ violence and living conditions in refugees or displaced persons camps are deplorable.

Malaria, which is treatable, is currently the leading cause of death.

Sexual and gender-based violence is widespread affecting thousands of women and girls.

The government, already weak prior to the conflict, does not have the capacity to respond to the humanitarian crisis. Three years after the beginning of the conflict, Central Africans rely on NGOs to access basic services, leaving aid organisations with a colossal job to do. In 2016, more than 60 humanitarian organizations were focused on protection, 60 plus on food security and 37 on health.

Yet, due to ongoing violence, vulnerable people cannot always benefit from lifesaving assistance.

 

Photographer : ELENA ARANZ ARANZ, ICRC

Challenge 3. Lack of infrastructure

Another obstacle humanitarian workers face is the lack of infrastructure. Outside Bangui, many parts of the country are very difficult to access and isolated. With a territory slightly bigger than France and nearly 5 million inhabitants, CAR’s population density is low and concentrated in the west and south of the country.

Transportation infrastructure is poorly-maintained. Most roads are not paved, many bridges are unusable and networks between cities are underdeveloped. The country has no railroads, internal flights are rare and depend on the security situation. Traveling from one city to another is time-consuming. The rainy season, from April to October, further renders traveling difficult, if not impossible in some areas.

Also, due to the presence of armed groups and road bandits, humanitarian workers have to travel in convoys.

This situation affects both the operation of NGOs’ deployment throughout the country and responsiveness when new hotspots emerge.

 

Challenge 4. Lack of finance

In January, the government and the humanitarian community launched a two year plan, requesting almost US$400 million to finance humanitarian actions for the year 2017.

Making a substantial difference to the situation in CAR requires long-term commitments and the attention and support of the global public. With other humanitarian crises erupting throughout the world, the Central African Republic is at risk of fading from the international agenda, as so often before. This would impact the funding of humanitarian organizations and have disastrous consequences for the population.

In 2016, only 37% of the funding requirements to meet humanitarian need was met. One of the consequences of this shortfall was shortages in humanitarian supplies. For instance, the World Food Program, instead of targeting 1 million people, was able to help only 400,000 people and had to cut its food rations by half.

 

Challenge 5. Lack of information

Last but not least, gathering real-time information is extremely difficult. Outside Bangui and other large city centres, cell-phone and internet networks are almost non-existent.

In 2015, only 30% of the population had a subscription to a mobile phone and 4% of the population was using internet. As a result, knowing exactly what is happening in one village takes time which can delay the potential humanitarian response in case of crisis.

Unknown to most people, despite often extreme and hostile conditions, the humanitarian actors in CAR help hold this country together. The long-suffering people of CAR and the incredible community who support them need more of us to take notice and take action.

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Key sources (in French)

MSF suspends its activities in PK5 (Bangui) for 7 days

Surge in violence: the UN calls on armed groups not to obstruct humanitarian access

Without urgent funding, the World Food Program would have to suspend its help to thousands displaced people

Bringing stability to CAR: using emergency public service and infrastructure projects to promote post-crisis recovery