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ICRC Steps Up Aid To Displaced Poor In Central African Republic


The International Committee of the Red Cross is stepping up humanitarian operations for 100,000 displaced people in the Central African Republic. A Red Cross Official just back from the CAR tells VOA these people are barely surviving in their homes in the bush. Lisa Schlein reports from Geneva.

Decades of turmoil in the Central African Republic have taken a tremendous toll on the population. The last year has seen intensified fighting between government and rebel forces in the northern and central parts of the country.

Communications officer for the International Committee of the Red Cross, Jessica Barry, has just returned from a three-week mission to the CAR. She tells VOA all semblance of normal life in the northern and central parts of the country is gone.

"Whole villages are abandoned," said Barry. "You see burned down houses in the villages although maybe not whole villages burnt, but, completely empty. No animals running around and people have taken to the bush. There has been fighting going on. There has been general unrest. People are not able to do their normal lives. Schools are closed."

The fighting has displaced more than 200,000 people. Barry says they are living in utter poverty and misery.

She notes life for them was not easy when they were living in their villages. But, at least they had mud brick huts with thatched roofs that kept the rain out.

In the bush, she says, the people live in straw huts with grass roofs.

"They leak. When I was there, there were thunder storms and you sit inside one of these things and you get wet immediately," said Barry. "They cook on open fires like they do in the villages. But, they have rudimentary cooking utensils. So, they are living really, really on the margins of survival."

Barry says the Red Cross is increasing its operations to provide assistance to 100,000 beneficiaries. She says the aid is focused on items people need to survive in the bush. They include tarpaulins, blankets, sleeping mats and big aluminum basins used for cooking, for food or for fetching water.

She says the displaced people live close to their fields and need agricultural tools, such as hoes for weeding.

"Maybe when they fled, they were not able to take anything with them at all," said Barry. "So, unless they can have these tools to make sure that their crops are weeded and that they can get a harvest later this year, this is so that at least the basic necessities of living can be covered."

The Central African Republic is located in a difficult region. This huge country with a population of four million borders Chad, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon. Most of these countries have running conflicts.

Despite its ongoing rebellion, the CAR is now hosting thousands of refugees that have fled neighboring countries.

Barry notes the CAR has been largely forgotten by the international community. But, in an ironic twist, she says more attention now is being paid to the country because of the growing numbers of people from Darfur and Chad seeking refuge there.

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