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Central African Republic: aid hampered by unsafe conditions

05-05-2010 Interview

Precarious security in the central-northern, north-eastern and south-eastern parts of the Central African Republic is an ongoing challenge for humanitarian endeavour. Simon Ashmore, the ICRC’s head of delegation in the country, explains.

   

©CICR    
 
Simon Ashmore    
     How did the 2009 attacks in the north-east affect access by humanitarian organizations?  

The situation there is extremely worrying. The town of Birao was attacked twice in 2009. Since then, a number of clashes have occurred between armed groups, bandits and modern-day highwaymen. In November, two employees of the NGO Triangle Génération Humanitaire were kidnapped b y armed men. They were held until this past March. We would really like to see the security climate improve so that humanitarian agencies, including the ICRC, can assess the impact of the recent clashes on the local population and provide any help needed.

 
© ICRC/C.-V. Magendo    
 
Displaced people near Obo town, in the south-eastern of the country (towards the end of 2009).   
     

 What is your view of the situation in the central north and north-west?  

    

The situation is also very unstable in the central north, as illustrated by the attack on the town of Ndélé in April of this year. As soon as the situation improves, we'll push to gain access to Ndélé and the key roads to the north of it. That will allow us to assess the needs of people affected by the violence and respond appropriately.

In the north-west, the security level has improved since the peace agreement was signed and the “inclusive political dialogue” was held in 2008. Displaced people have been able to return home after spending two or even three years elsewhere in the country, or in Chad. With our help, local people are now able to resume farming, improve their level of hygiene and gain access to water and housing. The goal is a healthy living environment.

 Are the country’s problems all linked to the current lack of security?  

    

Sometimes it's difficult to tell whether the needs stem from the conflict or from underdevelopment, which has been chronic for decades. This is why we're largely focusing our efforts on resuming programmes that support the transition from relief to development.

The people of this country are deprived of what they need to generate income and move beyond simple subsistence. Access to drinking water and to health care is extremely limited. The people’s most urgent needs are their most basic ones.

 How is the ICRC responding to this tangle of poverty, armed violence and banditry?  

    

Our priority is to reach the people directly affected by the fighting. Our contacts with all sides make us better able to respond to their needs in a targeted, consistent and timely manner. Then comes the post-conflict period, which presents its share of problems. We help people return to the places from which they come, rebuild their homes, resume farming, gain access to drinking water and restore a healthy living environment.

ICRC aid is very importan t, from providing emergency relief to helping people restart agricultural production. But we're often also faced with the challenge of protecting both civilians and people detained in connection with the conflict. We endeavour to promote international humanitarian law with belligerents on all sides and ensure they obey it. We visit places of detention and maintain a dialogue with the authorities aimed at improving conditions.

And we're working closely with the Central African Red Cross Society, which is taking on ever more responsibilities. It wants to be fully able to send out first-aid workers, be the first responder in the event of a natural disaster, and work side by side with us in connection with conflict. These goals highlight the importance of our capacity-building support.