GENEVA/DAKAR/BANGUI, 30 November 2018: Five years after Bangui descended into bloodshed, life in the Central African Republic is even harsher and more dangerous for children. Despite the escalating crisis, international funding and attention are critically low.
A new UNICEF report, “Crisis in the Central African Republic: In a neglected emergency, children need aid, protection – and a future” finds that:
- 1.5 million children now require humanitarian assistance, an increase of 300,000 since 2016.
- Over 43,000 children below five years old are projected to face an extremely elevated risk of death due to severe acute malnutrition (SAM) in 2019.
- One in four children is either displaced or a refugee.
- Thousands of children are trapped within armed groups; thousands more are subject to sexual violence.
- Practically every child needs protection from the armed groups who now control four-fifths of the country.
- The number of attacks against aid-workers more than quadrupled – from 67 incidents in all of 2017 to 294 in just the first eight and one-half months of 2018.
“This crisis is taking place in one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world, and one of the most dangerous for humanitarian workers,” said Christine Muhigana, UNICEF’s Representative in the Central African Republic. “Conditions for children are desperate.”
The crisis in CAR is driven largely by fighting between a dozen or so armed groups over cattle routes and lands rich in diamonds, gold and uranium. More often than not, the armed groups target civilians rather than each other. They attack health and education facilities and personnel, mosques and churches, as well as sites where displaced people have taken shelter.
Terrified families are being driven from their homes. As of late September, almost 643,000 people – at least half of whom are children – were displaced across CAR, and over 573,000 had sought refuge in neighboring countries. Coupled with extremely limited access to health care, safe water and sanitation, the forced displacement translates into a malnutrition crisis for children. SAM rates were above emergency thresholds in 16 out of 18 displacement sites surveyed over the past two years; for children forced into the bush, conditions are even more dire.
The crisis is unfolding within an acute development emergency. CAR has the world’s second-highest newborn death rate and maternal mortality ratio, fewer than three out of five children make it through primary school, and almost half the population has no access to clean water. The country ranks 188 out of 189 countries on the UN’s Human Development Index, a composite indicator measuring life expectancy, income and education.
- Providing lifesaving therapeutic food, medicine, equipment and training to treat tens of thousands of children with severe acute malnutrition, and working with partners to reach 890,000 women and children to prevent malnutrition.
- Immunising children against deadly diseases, and helping them access clean water and sanitation.
- Setting up temporary learning and protection spaces, providing emergency education and recreational supplies, and training community teachers to help get children back to learning in safe spaces.
- Helping children who have been released from armed groups or subjected to sexual violence to recover and reintegrate into the community.
- Through the Rapid Response Mechanism, reaching vulnerable communities affected by acute shock quickly with basic, lifesaving supplies and support – tents, mats, mosquito nets, jerry cans and cooking utensils, as well as water and sanitation services.
- UNICEF provides virtually all the therapeutic food required to treat SAM and almost all the emergency education supplies in CAR. UNICEF also supplies half of the vaccines required in the country, and procures the other half on behalf of partners and the government.
Despite the major upsurge in fighting and displacement, only 44 per cent of UNICEF’s US$56.5 million funding appeal for 2018 had been met as of the end of October. “The children of the Central African Republic have been abandoned for too long,” Muhigana said. “They need attention and help now, and they will need it for the long run.”