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Central African Republic: ICRC steps up response to humanitarian crisis

03-04-2014 Interview

The Central African Republic is currently experiencing a major humanitarian crisis. The ICRC is asking donors for more than 15.6 million Swiss francs in additional funding to enable it to step up its activities in the country in response to the catastrophic situation. Patrick L'Hôte, the organization's head of operations for Central and Southern Africa, provides an overview of the ICRC's past efforts and those planned for the future.

 ICRC President Maurer with patients at Bangui's Community Hospital where several surgical teams are treating the wounded and the sick. About 70% of the cases admitted to hospital are machete and other knife wounds, bullet and grenade wounds. ©ICRC

What exactly are people in the Central African Republic going through?

It's truly a matter of survival now for a large part of the population. Fear is out there, it's palpable. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced within the country or have had to leave it. Some people don't dare leave their homes, or return to their homes, out of fear of crime or further targeted violence. Security is urgently needed. A very large number of families – it's not at all easy to make an accurate estimate of just how many – were dispersed as they fled. In some cases, very young children were separated from their families. Living conditions remain very difficult for displaced people in camps: some of them have lost everything and are suffering from a severe lack of supplies and shelter. For some sick or injured people, it's still dangerous to go to hospital. Successive crises over many years combined with endemic poverty and the recent surge in violence have brought the country to its knees. Basic State-run services such as those provided by the justice system and the education system are almost at a complete standstill.

What is the ICRC doing in the country?

In 2012, our activities focused on providing livelihood support for village communities around Kaga Bandoro in the central part of the country, around Ndélé and Birao in the north, and in the south-east. At the beginning of 2013, we had to adjust our activities in response to the deteriorating situation by taking emergency action wherever possible, often in partnership with the Central African Red Cross Society. We evacuated casualties, collected and buried dead bodies, provided medical treatment for the injured, distributed water, food and essential supplies, traced people who had become separated from their families, and had talks with those responsible for the violence about their obligation to respect and protect civilians and relief organizations. These emergency responses were often carried out in conditions of extreme tension and danger for the people we were trying to help but also for our own personnel and those of the Central African Red Cross. The violence of these past few months has not spared our colleagues.

What actions will the funding appeal enable you to take?

Aid for displaced people and returnees will be increased by making food, water and supplies available to them so that they can maintain an acceptable level of hygiene. Waste collection at sites where displaced people live and the construction of latrines will continue. Our presence in the west of the country, which until now has been mobile and temporary, will soon be put on a permanent footing with the opening of an office. In prisons, we are going to carry on with our visits to people who have been arrested to make sure the conditions in which they are being held and the treatment they receive meet international standards, and also to help achieve that aim. Together with the Central African Red Cross and other National Societies from the region, we are going to step up efforts to trace people who have become separated from their families in the Central African Republic or in neighbouring countries. In the medical field, we are going to proceed with upgrades to Bangui's Community Hospital and improve services there, for example by building an X-ray facility. In the central part of the country, the mobile clinics already at work will continue to see patients, including those who have suffered sexual violence. Finally, we will strengthen our dialogue with weapon bearers and civilians taking part, directly or indirectly, in the violence so that civilians will be spared attacks, and also so that the red cross emblem, medical services and neutral and impartial humanitarian work will be respected. Obviously, the ICRC is not alone in the Central African Republic; other important humanitarian organizations are also working hard to bring a measure of humanity into this major crisis, which, unfortunately, has not yet been contained.

Facts and figures

  • Almost 100 local and expatriate personnel will reinforce the current staff.
  • The ICRC's operation in the Central African Republic will become one of its 10 largest in the world in budgetary terms.
  • The ICRC has been working in the Central African Republic since 1987. It has had a permanent presence in the country since 2007.
  • The current budget for the ICRC's operations in the Central African Republic is 23.6 million Swiss francs.