Thousands displaced by fighting need urgent help in Central African Republic
BANGUI, Central African Republic, September 26 (UNHCR) - A humanitarian team dispatched to the Bossangoa area of Central African Republic (CAR) has found devastation and thousands of people in urgent need of assistance following the latest fighting in the troubled region.
"We found people in desperate need of assistance, such as food, water, shelter and medical care. They have no food and are sleeping under trees in this rainy season," said Jean-Claude Ndanga, a UNHCR field associate in CAR who was part of the multi-agency team that returned from the area this week.
In Bossangoa itself, 300 kilometres north of the capital, Bangui, the team found some 5,000 displaced had sheltered in the Catholic church, a school and the sub- prefecture building. They were in dire need of food, shelter and water, with all three sites facing overcrowding and deteriorating sanitary conditions.
Clashes in the last two weeks between the former Seleka coalition and self-defence groups have forced more than 170,000 people - many of them women and children - to flee their villages in Ouham Pende Prefecture and seek safety in the town of Bossangoa. This was the latest fighting in an internal CAR conflict that has displaced nearly 400,000 people this year, according to United Nations figures.
"One of my sons was killed by armed men before my own eyes, and the other fled, where I don't know," said Kadjidja, a woman of about 50 who was at the Liberte school after running many kilometres from her village of Zere to Bossangoa. She was still wearing the single piece of cloth she had fled in and was sleeping on the ground because she had no mat or blanket.
During the visit to Bossangoa, staff from UNHCR and other organizations witnessed the widespread horror and destruction inflicted by the conflict. Some 400 people reportedly died in the latest clashes.
The fighting has desolated an area that once had an active economy. On a 165-kilometre stretch of road, the inter-agency mission didn't pass a single other vehicle or bicycle.
"The villages of Togbo, Ndow Kette and Gbakata that we passed were totally burnt, looted and deserted. Only some stray domestic animals are still visible," Ndanga said. Insecurity made it impossible for UNHCR and other agencies to reach areas above Bossangoa, but villagers reported thousands of newly displaced.
Following the mission to the area, UNHCR and other agencies are coordinating plans to deliver immediate aid to the displaced. The UN refugee agency is providing non-food items such as tarpaulins, blankets, sleeping mats, mosquito nets, jerry cans, buckets and soap.
Last week, UNHCR distributed items to some 2,500 newly displaced in Paoua, 140 kilometers from Bossangoa, and now the agency will provide aid to the 5,000 internally displaced people in Bossangoa
By Djerassem Mbaiorem in Bangui, Central African Republic