Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The humanitarian situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) remains dire, as insecurity is making the delivery of humanitarian relief ever more difficult and as the number of people displaced within the country has now surpassed 935,000.
Targeted attacks against civilians, looting and the presence of armed elements at some displacement sites have severely limited humanitarian agencies' access to those in need of urgent assistance.
Our staff report that people are hiding in the bush, fearing fresh attacks. The deteriorating situation, coupled with the long distances between IDP sites outside Bangui and poor road infrastructure, makes it increasingly difficult for UNHCR to reach people displaced by the conflict.
Some 512,672 people are currently sheltering in 67 sites in the capital, Bangui, or living with host families. This represents more than half of Bangui's total population. Some 60 per cent of those displaced are children.
Access to 45,367 internally displaced people (IDPs) living with host families in Bangui, is very difficult under the current circumstances and makes it difficult for us to assess their needs and provide assistance. In the last week, the number of IDPs arriving at the airport has almost doubled; there are now some 100,000 people there. Distribution of shelter material and other relief items has become more challenging and it is difficult to put a distribution system in place. Humanitarian agencies are working on a rapid 30-day interagency response for people displaced at this site.
Continued clashes in Bossangoa, 300 km north of Bangui, have also led to an increase in the IDP population at two nearby sites known as Archbishop and Ecole Liberté.
Improved security is essential for humanitarian workers to reach the displaced and provide vital humanitarian aid to hundreds of thousands who desperately need our assistance. More troops and effective operational coordination is needed for MISCA (the African Union peacekeeping force), which may reach 6,000 soldiers with the arrival of Congolese and Rwandan troops.
Despite these challenges, UNHCR and its partners continue to distribute relief items at sites where access is possible. Since December 5, our supplies have reached about 23,000 people from over 4,600 households. In CAR, UNHCR leads the interagency clusters for protection, shelter and non-food items, and camp coordination and camp management.
We are scaling-up our presence in CAR with the arrival of our emergency teams. Fifteen additional UNHCR staff have arrived since 14 December. In addition, we hope to expand our presence in the field by establishing a sub-office in Bossangoa and two field units in the coming weeks. These are in addition to Kaga-Bandoro, Paoua,, Bambari and Zemio, which are already operational.
Since last Sunday, UNHCR has been organizing airlifts of relief items, vehicles and office equipment from its regional warehouses in Nairobi, Accra, Dubai and Douala. Three planes have arrived so far this week, with three more due to land this weekend. In all, 205,871 metric tonnes of assistance will be flown in - enough for 75,000 individuals or 15,000 families. Airlifted items include tents, blankets, plastic sheets and other supplies.
Since March last year, some 75,000 refugees have fled CAR to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Republic of Congo, Chad and Cameroon - bringing the global number of refugees from CAR to some 240,000 by end of December.
Renewed violence has also forced several countries to repatriate their nationals. Thousands of Chadians have already been evacuated. Cameroon also flew home several hundred of its citizens last week. Senegal and Niger, meanwhile, have asked the International Organization for Migration (IOM) for help repatriating their nationals. In addition, several hundred nationals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo have expressed their desire to return as well. UNHCR is working with IOM to identify refugees and asylum-seekers who wish to return home.
An interagency humanitarian plan for CAR was announced on December 24, 2013. This 100-day plan will allow for immediate and rapid provision of protection and life-saving assistance to people in need of urgent care. US$152.2 million is requested for the next 100 days.
UNHCR is currently protecting and assisting 20,336 refugees in CAR. Refugees in Bambari, Zémio and Batalimo camps (mainly Congolese, Sudanese and Chadians) who are receiving tents, blankets and other relief items and basic services. While the situation in the country remains tense, no incidents involving refugees have been reported yet. However, many live in fear of an attack.
We are also assisting those refugees who wish to repatriate to their country.
For more information on this topic, please contact:In Bangui, Bernard Ntwari on mobile +236 72 675186 In Geneva, Babar Baloch on mobile +41 79 557 9106