Increasing Humanitarian Concerns in Central African Republic's Haut-Mbomou Prefecture

Date: August 15, 2023

Central African Republic (CAR) - The humanitarian situation in the Haut-Mbomou Prefecture of the Central African Republic has reached a critical point, prompting concerns from the international community. The CAR humanitarian response plan for 2023 aims to assist 2.4 million vulnerable individuals, requiring a total of US$465 million.

The deteriorating security situation in their villages has forced many Chadians to seek refuge in the northwest region of Central Africa. This influx of displaced individuals has added strain to an already dire situation.

During the first quarter of 2023, humanitarian actors managed to provide life-saving assistance to 658,000 people, which accounts for 28 percent of the target set in the Humanitarian Response Plan. However, with 50 percent of the population experiencing severe food insecurity, CAR currently has one of the highest proportions of critically food-insecure individuals globally.

Emergency response efforts are underway to address the urgent needs of isolated communities in CAR. One such area, the sub-prefecture of Yalinga, located in the southeast of the Haute-Kotto prefecture, remains highly vulnerable and isolated. The estimated population of 10,650 residents has limited access to basic services, including healthcare and clean water. In addition, food insecurity is rampant among the population, most of whom are spontaneous returnees after being displaced by armed groups for years.

Yalinga faces significant challenges due to armed group activities and the poor condition of roads, particularly during the rainy season from April to October. Recurrent clashes over resource control between different armed groups have resulted in extortion, illegal taxation, and other human rights violations against the population. Humanitarian organizations have also faced robberies and kidnapping attempts while attempting to assist vulnerable individuals.

In December 2022, armed men held staff members from a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) hostage during their mission to install a vaccine conservation system in a Yalinga health center. Similarly, in 2021, armed men robbed a private transporter working for an NGO, resulting in the theft of three months' worth of medicines for the Yalinga Health Center. The presence of armed groups and overall insecurity has made humanitarian activities and assessments via road impossible, leading to the temporary withdrawal of humanitarian organizations until April 2023.

In April 2023, a humanitarian mission led by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) visited Yalinga after over three years of limited access. The mission, comprising organizations such as OXFAM, INTERSOS, AURD, BRIA-LONDO, ESPERANCE, and the World Food Programme (WFP), conducted assessments to identify needs and devised a response plan covering April to December 2023. By collaborating with local authorities and civil society actors, the mission aimed to mitigate risks associated with road travel in the area.

Assessments conducted in April 2023 revealed significant needs across various sectors, including protection, health, food security, nutrition, education, water, hygiene, and sanitation. Over 120 protection incidents, including cases of torture, kidnapping, and destruction of property, were documented. Moreover, 50 cases of gender-based violence (GBV) were reported. The presence of armed groups, poor economic conditions, lack of school infrastructure, and shortage of qualified teachers have resulted in over 60 percent of children dropping out of school. Access to clean drinking water remains a major challenge, with residents relying on rivers and traditional wells as their primary water sources.

To address the urgent needs of the population, the assessment mission provided initial humanitarian assistance. The NGO Bria-Londo donated communications equipment to the Yalinga authorities to reinstall a VHF radio, enabling communication with the outside world. INTERSOS provided cash assistance to 11 GBV survivors to cover their food needs. Awareness-raising sessions on GBV issues were organized for approximately 240 women and girls, and OXFAM distributed hygiene kits to 40 vulnerable women and girls. Additionally, the NGO COOPI distributed teaching kits to six out of the 10 schools in the sub-prefecture to support children's education. The World Health Organization (WHO) distributed 300 insecticide-impregnated mosquito nets and conducted sensitization programs on menstrual hygiene, home water treatment techniques, and environmental hygiene for around 5,380 individuals. The NGO Bria-Londo trained members of the Yalinga Peace Committee in income-generating activities and provided them with micro-project kits to enhance the availability of basic necessities, supporting food and nutritional security in the region.

As the humanitarian needs in CAR continue to grow, urgent action and increased funding are required to assist the most vulnerable populations in accessing life-saving aid. The international community, alongside humanitarian organizations, must work together to address the ongoing crisis and provide the necessary support to ensure the well-being and survival of the affected individuals in CAR. The situation in the Haut-Mbomou Prefecture serves as a stark reminder of the challenges faced by the civilian population, who have been enduring conflict and violence for over a decade.

The CAR Humanitarian Response Plan for 2023 outlines the need for US$465 million to assist 2.4 million vulnerable people. This funding is crucial to provide essential services and support to those affected by the crisis.

Efforts to address the emergencies in isolated areas, such as the sub-prefecture of Yalinga, have been hindered by multiple obstacles. Armed group activities and the poor condition of roads, exacerbated by the rainy season, have made it difficult for humanitarian organizations to reach those in need. Extortion, illegal taxation, and human rights violations against the population further compound the challenges faced by both the affected individuals and humanitarian actors.

However, there have been recent positive developments. In April 2023, a humanitarian mission, led by OCHA and comprising various organizations, managed to reach Yalinga after a prolonged absence. The mission conducted assessments to identify the pressing needs of the population and devised a response plan to address them. By working closely with local authorities and civil society actors, risks associated with road travel were identified and mitigated.

The assessments conducted in April 2023 shed light on the critical needs across multiple sectors. Protection remains a major concern, with incidents of torture, kidnapping, and destruction of property documented. Gender-based violence is also prevalent, affecting women and girls disproportionately. The lack of school infrastructure and qualified teachers has resulted in a significant number of children dropping out of school. Inadequate access to clean drinking water poses a serious health risk to the population, who rely on rivers and traditional wells for their water needs.

To alleviate the immediate needs of the population, the assessment mission provided essential assistance. Communication equipment was donated to the Yalinga authorities, enabling them to stay connected with the outside world and enhance the protection of residents. Cash assistance was provided to survivors of gender-based violence to support their food needs. Awareness-raising sessions on gender-based violence were conducted, targeting women and girls. Hygiene kits were distributed to vulnerable women and girls, ensuring their basic hygiene needs are met. Teaching kits were provided to schools to support children's education. Furthermore, the distribution of insecticide-impregnated mosquito nets, along with sensitization programs on menstrual hygiene and home water treatment techniques, aimed to improve health and hygiene practices among the population. Training in income-generating activities and the provision of micro-project kits aimed to enhance food and nutritional security in the region.

While these efforts are commendable, urgent action is required to address the growing humanitarian needs in CAR. Increased funding and support from the international community are crucial to ensure the well-being and survival of the most vulnerable populations. Humanitarian organizations are working tirelessly to provide life-saving assistance, but their efforts must be sustained and expanded to reach all those in need.

The situation in CAR highlights the resilience and strength of the affected communities, who continue to endure immense challenges. By coming together and providing the necessary support, we can make a difference in the lives of the people of CAR and help them rebuild their lives in the face of adversity.