The U.N. children's fund says prolonged fighting in the northern part of Central African Republic has made more than 200,000 people homeless and forced another 70,000 to seek refuge in neighboring countries. Lisa Schlein has more for VOA from Geneva, where UNICEF has its European headquarters.
The Central African Republic has been caught in a cycle of violence for the past 10 years. The country has been crippled by war and civil unrest as successive governments and rebel groups fight for power. As a result of the fighting, the current government is unable to provide basic services to the population.
UNICEF's representative in the CAR, Mahimbo Mdoe, rattles off a catalogue of grim statistics. He says 70 percent of schools in the northern part of the country are closed, health clinics are practically nonexistent, more than six percent of the population has HIV / AIDS, eight percent of the children are acutely malnourished.
Mdoe says the maternal and under-five mortality rates are among the highest in Africa.
"Almost every week 420 children (are) dying. That is the equivalent of a jumbo jet falling from the sky every single day," Mdoe says. "Or, every single 30 seconds a child dies from preventable diseases."
Mdoe says in the Central African Republic, as in many other conflicts, rape is used to intimidate women and to intimidate the general population.
In addition, he says children are increasingly being recruited into fighting forces. He estimates between 300 and 600 children have been recruited so far this year.
"You only have to stop by one of these burned villages and you will see children bearing arms," Mdoe says. "So, the scale of the problem at the moment, we see a low figure of 300 and a high figure within three years maybe one thousand children in total will be demobilized. That does include children who have been re-recruited again once they have been demobilized."
Mdoe says UNICEF's main concern right now is for the many women and children who are living in the bush. He says seeds and tools have to be distributed before the rainy season in June and July. If this is not done, he fears stick-thin children once again will fill the television screens.
He says UNICEF so far has received a very poor response to its appeal for nearly $12 million for the Central African Republic. He says the agency needs five million dollars to carry out urgently needed programs for child survival and development, as well as for water and sanitation.