Central African Republic: a year on and no end in sight

It is a year ago today that rebels ousted the President of the Central African Republic and set the nation on a path that has seen it descend into chaos.

Displaced people in the refugee camp at Bangui Airport
Internally displaced people in the refugee camp at Bangui Airport

Since that day, we’ve seen two presidents and the arrival of French troops and additional African peacekeepers.

A grim situation, unchanged

And yet for those caught up in the crisis, tragically, much remains the same.

Back in July, I remember talking to frightened villagers who told me how killing, looting and rape had become part of daily life. How the country was in danger of spiralling completely out of control.

Only shreds of the Muslim community remain

Then in November and December, the violence peaked as the “anti-Balaka” vigilante squads fought back with unparalleled ferocity, targeting not just rebels, but eventually the entire Muslim community regardless of age or gender.

I remember only too well the weekend of 5 December, the bodies lying in the streets, the houses ripped apart, the unbroken sound of gunfire. In just two days over 1,000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands displaced.

Three months on and the situation remains dire. Only 10% of the capital’s Muslim population have stayed; the rest have fled north or to refugee camps in bordering countries. They have had to leave behind almost everything; loved ones, possessions, livelihoods.

More fighting, more bodies…

Those who have refused to leave and still reside in the ‘wrong’ neighbourhoods continue to live in fear. Just last night, fighting erupted outside the city centre and once again, bodies were laid out for identification – a sight that has become far too familiar.

Meanwhile, the international community remains overwhelmed by the sheer scale of need.

Looming disaster

The impending rainy season will make many roads impassable; it may well  bring disease. Hundreds of thousands displaced by the violence are living in makeshift shelters without access to clean water or proper sanitation. And as many as 90 per cent of farmers are reportedly without the seeds they need to sow now for the next harvest – suggesting an impending food crisis is just over the horizon.

When I first arrived in the CAR, last July, I wrote of a forgotten country experiencing a forgotten crisis. It took the slaughter of thousands to finally get the world’s attention. But now I fear that the international spotlight is again being diverted and the willingness to respond in CAR is waning. One year on from the coup, we are almost back to where we were when the rebellion started.

And today, I know one thing for certain: after a year of misery, this crisis is far from over.

Save the Children teams are on the ground both in the capital and elsewhere in the country, delivering life-saving health supplies, equipment and personnel to ensure that as many vulnerable families as possible have access to basic health care. Our 12 Child Friendly Spaces and 22 Youth Clubs provide a safe space to learn, play and receive psychosocial support for children who have been affected by the conflict. To date we have reached almost 140,000 people, including some 100,000 children.

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