Date Published: 21 March 2007
UNICEF mounts an emergency response in Birao following the humanitarian coordination appeal
A major humanitarian crisis in the northeast of the Central African Republic (CAR) is prompting UNICEF to launch an emergency response to provide immediate assistance to women and the children affected by recent fighting between the Government forces and a rebel movement.
A United Nations team which visited Birao, the main town of the Vakaga region near Sudan’s Darfur region, says it saw a place emptied of its population.
“ Never before has the UN seen a town in CAR where 70% of houses have been torched. The impact of this on people's lives cannot be exaggerated,” says UN Humanitarian Coordinator Toby Lanzer, who added that the town’s schools and hospital had been destroyed or looted. The mission was the first by the UN to the area since fighting resumed on 3 March.
UNICEF will support the first UN assessment, sending a joint technical team by flight to Birao on 24 and 25 March to evaluate the immediate needs and the appropriate response.
With the accelerated emergency phase now underway, UNICEF's office in CAR is preparing contingency stocks for an emergency operation starting as early as next week. This will include health kits, shelters, blankets, jerrycans and other non-food items.
“ We are really concerned by the situation in Birao. Thousands of children have been abandoned to their fate, they are traumatized by the violence and their basic needs are not covered. They need an urgent assistance,” said UNICEF representative in CAR Mahimbo Mdoe.
Prior to the recent fighting with the UFDR armed group, some 14,000 people lived in Birao. The UN now estimate that no more than 600 people remain in town, the rest having fled the violence and are now believed to be living in the bush. The UN believes that the burning of houses makes the population’s return to their homes virtually impossible before the start of the rainy season in May.
The number of people displaced from their homes in several parts of the northern CAR has tripled to 280,000. This figure includes 20,000 Central Africans who have sought refuge in Cameroon, 50,000 who are in Chad, and an estimated 210,000 internally displaced within the landlocked country.
Some one million people, one quarter of the population, are affected by the widespread and deteriorating insecurity in CAR. According to the UN Human Development Index, CAR is the sixth least developed country in the world, with indicators for maternal and under-5 child mortality already very poor, and now on a continuing downward decline.