Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ursula Mueller – Remarks at Member States Briefing on the Central African Republic
Excellences, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for joining us for this briefing on the Central African Republic. I am delighted to be joined on the podium by Her Excellency Madame Kpongo. Et je voudrais tout d’abord vous remercier, vous, votre gouvernement et le peuple de la République centrafricaine, pour votre accueil chaleureux et votre soutien pendant ma visite.
I recently came back from a seven-day visit to the Central African Republic. It was my second mission to the country – the first time I went was in February 2018.
The purpose of my visit was to take stock of progress made since last year and to assess the remaining challenges.
Given the recent increase in Member States’ engagement in the Central African Republic following progress made on the political front, my mission was also an opportunity to raise awareness of – and refocus international attention on – the humanitarian dimension of the crisis.
While in the Central African Republic, I met with Government officials in Bangui, including Prime Minister Ngrebada, three Ministers (Minister of Health, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Minister of Women), as well as representatives of United Nations organizations, the leadership of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), international and national NGOs, civil society and the diplomatic community.
I also visited Bria, in the central part of the country, as well as Alindao and Bangassou in the south east. There, I met with the local authorities, representatives from armed groups, humanitarian partners and – most importantly – hundreds of people affected by the crisis.
The humanitarian situation in the Central African Republic has further deteriorated since my last visit and I was struck by the high levels of suffering I saw.
Most displaced people have been forced to flee multiple times and are still unable to return home due to continued insecurity and lack of essential services. In Bria, for example, I met people in PK3, which is the largest displacement site in the country. Many of the internally displaced people told me their homes were just a short walk away, but they were too afraid to go back.
Spikes of violence in areas of the country that were not previously affected by the conflict are creating new displacements and humanitarian needs. This was very clear during my mission when, in the beginning of September, violence erupted in Birao, a very remote location in the north-east, displacing 13,000 people – and over this past weekend, fighting continued, killing some 20 people. The UN and humanitarian partners responded immediately by deploying teams within 48 hours and have now over 30 people on the ground to respond to the needs of the 13,000 displaced people. We are air-lifting food, health supplies, non-food items and other assistance, while MINUSCA is ensuring the protection of civilians displaced close to their base.
I heard many stories of the impact that the conflict has had on the population. In Alindao, I met Bénédicte, a woman who lived in an IDP site when her husband was killed in an attack by armed groups. She now still lives in the same site, but in fear and with tremendous challenges trying to support her children. There, I also met Elie, a 24-year old man who has been forced to flee several times. And now, with the support of the humanitarian community, he started to work as a tailor and can support his wife and children.
Continued violence has brought the humanitarian caseload to 2.9 million people, which is up from 2.5 million last year. One in four people in the Central African Republic are now displaced, either within the country’s borders or in neighbouring countries. Just to imagine this number: if that were to happen here, it would be the equivalent of 2.2 million people emptying out of New York City.
There are many more staggering figures.
Two-thirds of the population depend on aid to survive. More than 70 per cent of the population cannot access safe drinking water. Some 1.8 million people in the country are food insecure. And let us remember, these millions of people in need are in a country with a total population of less than 5 million.
There is some room for hope. In a number of areas, there has been increased freedom of movement and humanitarian access.
I was impressed by progress made in bridging humanitarian and development efforts, thanks to innovative approaches and collaboration, such as the one between the Central African Republic Humanitarian Fund and the European Union Bekou Trust Fund. They have undertaken initiatives in the south-east of the country, which – by sequencing humanitarian and development funding streams – have contributed to avoiding critical gaps and interruptions in core activities, as well as to build communities’ resilience to cope with sudden shocks.
However, most of the people I met underlined the state’s lack of capacity to deliver basic social services and called for more access to water, health and education services. To a large extent, humanitarian partners continue to fill the void. For instance, humanitarian actors provide more than 75 per cent of all health services in the country. While these activities will continue to be a lifeline for the population, this is not sustainable. We need to see a step-change in support from development partners to improve service delivery.
During my mission, several officials highlighted recent milestones following the signature of the Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in February this year between the Government and 14 armed groups. But many people I spoke to also warned that the continued heavy focus by the international community on applauding progress made on the political agenda, means we may be ignoring the many risks and conflict dynamics that exist in the country and the region.
There is persistent violence, with civilians bearing the brunt. Armed groups are continuing to prey on civilian populations. Sexual and gender-based violence is rampant. Protection concerns are particularly high among vulnerable groups, including persons with disabilities and older persons.
Protection of civilians must remain our top-most collective priority.
Throughout my visit, I spoke to dozens of crisis-affected women about the specific challenges and risks they face. I was appalled and shaken by testimonies from women and girls who have been assaulted and abused. These survivors urgently need access to medical and psychosocial support. Every 60 minutes, an alleged incident of gender-based violence is reported in the Central African Republic, and this number is only a fraction of the actual figure due to under-reporting. Ninety-two per cent of victims are women and girls. Victims and survivors must be given the justice they deserve, if this society is to heal and move forward.
I also met humanitarian workers who continue to stay and to deliver despite persistent insecurity. The Central African Republic is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for humanitarians. Three humanitarian workers have been killed so far this year and 28 have been injured.
I was especially impressed by the dedication and courage of staff from international and national NGOs, who put their lives on the line to do all they can to assist and protect people in need. In my meetings with Government officials and members of armed groups, I appealed to all to abide by their obligations under International Humanitarian Law and to cease all acts of violence against civilians and humanitarian personnel and assets.
Looking ahead, and in the context of limited resources and competing priorities – including next year’s elections in the Central African Republic – it will be key to ensure that protection of civilians remains the overarching priority during negotiations for the renewal of MINUSCA’s mandate, which is coming up in November.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I want to thank all donors who have generously contributed to the Humanitarian Response Plan so far. Nearly 50 per cent of the required US$430.7 million has been received. This is a considerable increase compared to previous years and has enabled humanitarians to deliver life-saving assistance to 750,000 people every month.
But much more needs to be done, because 50 per cent of the Humanitarian Response Plan is not funded. So existing donors need to scale up humanitarian funding and new donors need to come forward. This is especially important as we are identifying new needs as we gain access to areas that previously were unreachable, for example in the south-east where we now know there are more than 100,000 people who were not included in the Humanitarian Response Plan. At the same time, we have to respond to the impact of surges in violence in new areas, just like in Birao. Without additional funding, important humanitarian operations will have to be scaled down or cut altogether.
The people of the Central African Republic need our help now and we cannot fail them. If we do not step forward, we risk losing the investments the international community has already made to save and protect lives in the Central African Republic.
Thank you very much.