It’s been almost one week since the Seleka opposition group took control of Bangui, capital city of Central African Republic. Here, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) coordinator Sylvain Groulx discusses the situation in the city, and the consequences that the fighting and looting might have on the population of the country—many of whom are still hiding in the bush—as the rainy season looms.
What is the current situation in Bangui?
The situation is slowly improving, although a sense of insecurity is still pervasive during the day and at night we can still hear gunfire, and we know that some looting is still occurring. We also notice the fear in the population—people are still afraid to go out, to leave their homes; and there is no public transport, so even if people do want to get back to work, it’s difficult for them to move around. And they face the same problems if they need to go to the hospitals.
What about water and electricity? Have they been restored in Bangui?
Not yet, and it’s a problem for the population. People are using little wells in the neighborhood, but that doesn’t mean the water is potable. Lack of water and electricity is also a huge problem for the running of hospitals and health centers.
What is MSF doing in the city?
We are supporting the Community Hospital, where most of the wounded and sick are being cared for now. [Another facility,] the Amitié hospital is not functioning, as the staff have not returned to work yet. We are also supporting the Castor Health Center, which operates maternity and surgery wards and provides general consultations. We have delivered 3,000 liters [about 800 gallons] of fuel to the hospitals so they have the electricity needed for surgeries, which were suspended when the power went out. Also, we are planning to use a water truck to fill up the reserves at the hospitals.
What about in the rest of the country?
Everybody is focusing their interest on the situation in Bangui, but insecurity is still prevalent in the rest of the country and looting is still going on. Just yesterday we got news that the referral hospital in Bossangoa, one of the biggest in the area, has been completely looted. We will organize a team to go up as soon as the security situation allows it and evaluate how we can help there. In Batangafo, Kabo, Ndélé, Boguila, Zemio, Carnot, and Paoua we continue operations, although we can’t operate on the periphery of some of these locations due to the insecurity.
What is your fear for the population in the countryside?
Although many people are returning to their villages, we fear that many may still be hiding in the bush. This is in addition to the economic hardship that people are suffering as a consequence of the looting and fighting: loss of salaries, of their goods, of their tools or their food. We fear for the health of the population and the nutritional situation.
How is the rainy season going to affect to the situation?
It runs from May to November. Access to part of the country will be difficult, if not impossible. Part of the country will get cut off and will not be within reach of NGOs. With regard to the traditional hunger gap [times of the year when food stocks are at their lowest and new crops have not yet been harvested], the looting of stocks of food might contribute to major food insecurity.