|© AP Photo/Benamsse|
|Villagers tell a visiting UN mission their homes in Zoumbeti, northwest Central African Republic, were burned down as part of a campaign to rout rebels.|
By Kun Li
NEW YORK, USA, 21 December 2006 – Nearly 1 million people are being affected by ongoing hostilities in a ‘forgotten emergency’ in northern Central African Republic (CAR). The conflict between the government and rebel forces has forced an estimated 220,000 people to flee their homes.
A team of UN agencies, donors and non-governmental organizations travelled to the troubled region last month, witnessing firsthand the dire situation facing the country’s women and children. The mission was led by UNICEF Senior Special Adviser Ibrahima Fall.
“We were able to travel extensively in the northwest part of the country, where there was no government control and the rebellion has been active on and off for the last a couple of years,” said Mr. Fall.
Threat of attacks
“We have seen villages very systematically burnt,” Mr. Fall added, noting that many terrified villagers hide in the bushes to escape from the violence, as their homes are destroyed and their belongings taken away.
Shelter, food and water are among the essential items that are urgently needed to help the displaced cope. Making matters worse is the constant threat of attacks on children and their families.
“We have also verified clear examples of violations of basic human rights – abuses of all kinds, including rapes and killings,” noted Mr. Fall.
Despite its rich resources, CAR remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Life expectancy is only 41 years, and one in every five children dies before reaching the age of five. Failure to create a stable government and turbulence in its troubled neighbouring countries, such as Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo, are just two of the contributors to the country’s cycle of instability.
“This is a country that has been neglected for so many years,” said Mr. Fall. “Central African Republic has not attracted much attention in the past because you would hear people telling you ‘not enough people are dying.’
“If we wait for people to die,” he added, “then I am afraid that will be too late.”
To provide vital assistance to CAR, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has issued an appeal for $49.5 million. The funding is needed to help bring children and their families food, water and medicine, as well as protection from abuse and violence.