Geneva / Bangui (ICRC) – “Every day, the plight of the Central African people gets worse. Their suffering is compounded by repeated acts of violence against civilians, pillaging, killings and sexual violence,” said Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), following a three-day visit to the country. “With poverty widespread and State institutions crippled by years of instability and crisis, the country’s existing dependence on humanitarian aid will only grow unless efforts are stepped up to restore security.”
In the course of his visit, Mr Maurer met the president of the Central African Republic, government officials and civil society representatives, as well as the president of the Central African Red Cross Society – the ICRC’s main partner in the country. The ICRC president was able to see for himself the situation in the capital Bangui and in Kaga Bandoro and in Ndélé in the north of the country. In Ndélé, tributes were paid to the ICRC staff member killed there on 8 March.
Displaced people and local residents are living in extremely difficult conditions, at the mercy of indiscriminate attacks against men and women of all ages, including very young children. Since December 2013 the violence has been at an unprecedented level, with fighting particularly intense in certain parts of Bangui and in the west of the country. Thousands of people have been wounded or killed, and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes to seek refuge elsewhere in the country or in neighbouring countries, leaving everything behind and enduring extreme hardship. They are completely dependent on humanitarian aid. In M’Poko, where the biggest settlement of displaced people has sprung up near Bangui airport, water is supplied by the ICRC, while other humanitarian organizations provide food and medical care.
The lack of security is hampering efforts to protect people and improve their living conditions. “Everyone in the country is affected by the conflict in one way or another,” said Mr Maurer. “They are entitled to live with dignity and without fear for their lives. The relief efforts and the security of humanitarian workers are themselves being jeopardized by the poor security conditions.”
At Bangui Community Hospital, where three ICRC surgical teams are working round the clock and supporting local medical personnel, around 70% of those receiving emergency care are victims of shootings or stabbings. Unless they are helped to reach the hospital, in particular by the Central African Red Cross or the ICRC, they also have to risk their lives to seek medical care. The wounded must therefore be granted swift and unimpeded access to health care; they are entitled to protection and treatment. Health-care workers and facilities must also be spared and respected.
In other parts of the country, such as the town of Kaga Bandoro, the ICRC supports the region’s referral hospital. Further north, in Ndélé, ICRC staff are almost entirely responsible for keeping the water supply running.
“But more aid is needed,” said Mr Maurer. “That’s why we intend to increase our efforts, particularly in the area of health care, and to expand the geographical scope of our activities.”
The role of humanitarian organizations is also to restore people’s hope and dignity. “Together with volunteers from the Central African Red Cross, we are tailoring our work to the specific needs of people here,” said Mr Maurer. “But without security and functioning State services, humanitarian aid can only achieve so much.”
For video footage from 26 and 27 March about the current situation in the Central African Republic, go to our Video Newsroom.