GENEVA— The United Nations says 1.6 million people in the Central African Republic are in urgent need of food, protection, health care and other life-saving services. Emergency directors from seven U.N. and two private agencies are in the midst of a three-day mission to assess the current situation and see how humanitarian aid can best be distributed in the country.
Despite enormous difficulties, four U.N. agencies and dozens of international and national aid groups continue to provide humanitarian assistance to tens of thousands of needy people in the CAR.
Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, says more than 394,000 people have been forced to flee their homes since the country's current crisis began last December.
That is when the Seleka rebels rose up against the government of then-president Francois Bozize. The rebels seized the capital, Bangui, in March and ousted Bozize, who subsequently fled the country.
Since then, the former rebels have allowed the country to slide into chaos, with widespread robberies, looting, and violence, much of it blamed on Seleka fighters.
Laerke says in addition to the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people, another 64,000 have sought refuge in neighboring countries.
“Persistent insecurity, the absence of the rule of law, attacks against humanitarian personnel and assets are in many cases preventing life-saving assistance from reaching people in need. However, U.N. humanitarian staff have been redeployed to at least five locations outside of the capital and humanitarian teams are also on the ground and providing aid Bossangoa in the northeast where there has been a recent flare-up in fighting between various armed groups," said Laerke.
Laerke says members of the U.N. mission are talking to both the victims of this crisis and aid workers trying to help them. From this, he says, the mission will know what to do to better support the humanitarian effort.
He says the U.N. team also wants to get the international community to pay attention to this crisis and understand that the lives of hundreds of thousands of people are on the line.
He says only 39 percent of the U.N.'s $195 million appeal has been met, not enough to sustain the operation.
Meanwhile, the U.N. Children’s Fund says the country's education system has been greatly harmed by the crisis. A new UNICEF survey finds seven out of 10 students have not returned to school since the conflict started last December.
The agency found that about two-thirds of the 176 schools surveyed had been looted, occupied or damaged by bullets or shells.
UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado says students have lost on average of six months of schooling.
“Four out of five people said that fear of violence remains the main reason that students are reluctant to return to school. Absent teachers and lack of supplies were the two other main reasons. These numbers are a telling indicator of need. They show that there is sufficient generalized insecurity and fear, that teachers and pupils are afraid to go to school, and that parents are understandably not wanting to let their children out of their sight," said Mercado.
UNICEF is calling on CAR authorities to take concrete measures to support the permanent and safe return of all teachers and students to school.