I want to live independently and with dignity
The Danish Refugee Council is beginning a food security programme in the north-eastern Central African Republic after new assessments have shown that the returnees living here have little or no food security.
Fifty-five year old Katar Ali’s smiling face belies the trauma that she has lived through. With the help of the local schoolteacher, she tells the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) her story during a needs assessment visit to her village, Ambassana, in north-eastern Central African Republic (CAR). Ambassana, like other villages on the route between Ndele and Ngarba, was attacked by armed forces in 2009 during fighting with other groups in the zone.
A widow since her husband died of illness ten years ago, Katar raised and married off her five daughters, singlehandedly.
“My husband is gone, my daughters have their own lives and I’m alone”, she says. Surviving alone by carrying out subsistence agriculture on her piece of land, Katar managed to make ends meet. That changed when the conflict in north-eastern Central African Republic reached her village.
“They came with arms and looted everything and burnt my village. I had to run to save my life. I fell and hurt myself but there was no choice. I knew that if I didn’t run, I would die.”
Like many other villagers of the axe Ngarba, Katar found refuge near the River Manovo, where an improvised displaced peoples’ camp came up. Katar lived there for three years, scraping through an existence by cultivating a little bit and living off the land.
However, lack of means and increasing difficulties forced the displaced population to return to their original villages to seek aid. Truce between rebel groups and the government and a slightly more stable security situation might have helped this return but the primary reason remains the hope of receiving humanitarian assistance.
Katar says, “we are still afraid but we had to come back. It was becoming impossible to survive in the camp. We returned to Ambassana to try and start our lives again”.
The Danish Refugee Council carried out an initial assessment of the villages between Ndele and Ngarba in January 2012 and found that the population displaced in 2009 had returned and was reconstructing its houses. However, it had little or no food security. Aside from a few households that were still able to carry out a little agriculture, the rest were reduced to selling straw in nearby markets and living off the land.
“The situation here is really critical and these people need help. Let’s not forget that they’ve been living in a crisis situation without any assistance for the last three years. However, things can get even worse if they continue to be neglected. We need to act now,” warns Vincent Boulardot, livelihoods coordinator for Danish Refugee Council in Central African Republic.
This is why DRC, with the help of the DRC Emergency Fund and the Common Humanitarian Fund, is about to begin a food security programme on the entire axe Ngarba in May 2012. The population of the villages will be divided into groups and provided with seeds and tools as well as training for the agricultural campaign of 2012. This programme will be an extension of DRC’s food security programme in the town of Ndele and part of its effort to accompany the zone in its economic recovery.
DRC has found success in similar programmes in other post conflict zones of Central African Republic, for example in the north west where destroyed rural economies were jumpstarted by organizing populations into community based organizations, and providing them with continued material, technical and business training.
"The objective is not only to provide short term humanitarian assistance to these returnees but also to start the process of long term economic recovery in the entire zone. Following DRC’s participative approach, we want to transform them from beneficiaries into partners of development” continues Vincent. DRC’s food security programme will include Ambassana village and Katar Ali.
“I’m old. I don’t need much to survive but right now I have nothing. I need the basics to be able to live independently and with dignity,” says Katar, the smile never leaving her weathered face.