OCHA Operations Director, John Ging Opening remarks to the Press on Central African Republic - Press conference, Geneva, 16 January 2014
I spent the last five days in the Central African Republic (CAR). Obviously beginning in Bangui, where we have almost 500,000 people displaced, I was also with my colleagues in Bossangoa and in a small village called Zere, where we were engaging with people who, after months and months in the forest, were now starting to return.
The humanitarian crisis in CAR that we face today is the product of the international community ignoring the development of that crisis. This crisis has not just happened now. It is years and years in the making. What we have to account for, as the international community, in the first instance, is why we did not intervene, when it was so obvious that the trajectory of this country was on a trajectory to where we are today. The humanitarian community has been raising the alarm for a long time about the deteriorating situation.
What we have today in CAR is a country on a map, territory marked out but we don’t have the infrastructure of a state any longer. Politically the country has collapsed; the public service institutions (health care, education, social services) have collapsed. This results in the first instance in a very tragic situation for the population, in terms of their humanitarian status.
Compounding this is the collapse of the security infrastructure of the state. The army and the police force have also disintegrated. This has left the population with a massive protection crisis. The conflict has also now escalated in recent months and is being represented as inter-communal with a religious basis. This is not the case. From what I experienced, what I witnessed and in the discussions that I had, the communities are not in conflict with each other. There are people from each of the communities who are conducting atrocities against people from the other communities, and they are doing it in the name of their communities; but they are not representing their communities. Ordinary people from both communities are living in fear, and that fear is being expressed by them having to flee their homes in the face of atrocities being committed and live in these camps for the internally displaced, or flee in the countryside into the forests. Both communities want nothing more than security, peace, and an environment in which they can return home and rebuild their lives. This was the consistent message from everybody that I met.
There is a real and palatable fear regarding the current situation and people anticipate the worst. There is no confidence that the situation is going to get better anytime soon among the population. The political events of late last week, on Friday, in N’djamena, have opened a new opportunity. But the people, as they communicated to me, want to see action that they can build their confidence around, and so far, they are hopeful, but sceptical. It will very much depend on the coming days in terms of the generation of a more positive dynamic among communities who are overtaken by a sense of mortal fear, fear for their lives, as they wait to see who will be appointed in the new leadership position and as to whether there is going to be positive change or not. We must understand that there is first and foremost a dynamic of fear in the population.
This translates into huge numbers of people fleeing their homes: 886,000 IDPs, some 500,000 in Bangui itself. The needs, when it comes to humanitarian needs are the very basics – clean drinking water, food, sanitation, and basic healthcare. We in the humanitarian community have given this crisis the highest status in terms of our prioritization of the response. We call this a ‘Level 3’ (L3) crisis, we have only three ‘L3’ crises in the world – this, Syria and Philippines. We are recognising within the humanitarian community the scale and urgency of this crisis and to that end, there has been the mobilization of a large number of very experienced and expert humanitarian staff to mobilize and deliver the response that is necessary.
We have published an assessment of needs and we are working on updated Strategic Response Plans (SRP). We have a ‘100 day plan’, to focus everyone’s attention on the immediate needs, and to focus donor attention on the funding required to support the humanitarian action.
On the response itself, so far our colleagues in WFP have very impressively mobilized food for 300,000 people in terms of basic food assistance. International NGOs are led by MSF on the medical side. A number of partners are also focused on getting shelter and other basic assistance. UNHCR is leading on this and have reached some 20,000 people in the airport alone, and will reach an additional 20,000 in the coming days. Vaccinations are a big issue. UNICEF and WHO are making significant progress with the support of a number of INGOs, including IMC and Merlin, on measles vaccinations – 115,000 children in over 70 sites. Since 3 January nearly 72,000 children have been vaccinated in 15 sites. There is a lot of humanitarian action underway, given that this is a very large crisis. However we are constrained very significantly by underfunding.
The SRP, asking for US$ 247million dollars, was published in the middle of December, but only 6% has been released by donors for our response. All UN agency partners have actually released their emergency response funding to cover the initial phase of the response. This has been supplemented by a $10 million allocation from CERF. And we are now very much dependent on our donors scaling up, to give us the resources that we need for a large scale operation. But right now, that is not happening.
We understand why that is not happening. When you look at the scale of the needs across the globe, over $12.9 billion is being appealed for globally. Donors are overstretched from their existing pools of money. They have been very straightforward with us; they told us that they just don’t have the means to meet all of the needs. Having said that, CAR has to move up the priority list – it has languished at the bottom of the priority list for our donors for far too long. Part the problem we face today in terms of the scale of the problem, is that the problem has grown because of neglect by the international community, and it will continue to grow, until we effectively address it and it will be more costly to respond to as time goes on. That is the financial side of it.
On the humanitarian side, it is a tragedy; a mega-tragedy. It is unnecessary suffering and it is escalating again at a very fast pace. We are all very concerned about the possibility of this conflict, initiated and incited by extremely violent people who have an agenda to try to convert this into an inter-ethnic, inter-religious conflict and are seeking to spark the flames of such a conflict. The communities are resisting that but they are in fear. And the incitement is that they need to defend themselves. We have seen that, heard that, in too many previous tragedies and we cannot allow it to happen in this case. It underpins the necessity for a very large scale international engagement beyond the humanitarian. So we are a small component as humanitarians of what needs to be a much larger international engagement. We need more engagement on the political, security, development and humanitarian side. But right now we have to call it as it is. With the exception of countries that have been mobilized on the security side - military forces from AU, France - we commend those countries who are contributing, because it is absolutely essential that the security situation be stabilised urgently to create a platform for recovery. Other than that mobilization by Member States we do not see the mobilization of financial resources that are needed, in particular for life-saving response.
We are only appealing for money for the very basics, to feed people, to provide basic medical care, clean water, the basic for shelter and so on. That is what the $247 million is to deliver. Yet we have only $15.5 million so far. We cannot deliver in any way, shape or form, to meet the needs of this population, without the mobilization of the resources that we require. We understand the reasons that are been given, but we cannot accept them. There have to be solutions found where the global escalation of humanitarian needs is matched with the corresponding increase in funding. There is a bigger global issue here and there is also a prioritisation issue.
While the bigger global issue is being addressed, ie how to mobilise significantly more money in response to a significantly deteriorating humanitarian environment across the globe (natural disaster, conflict); before that – now – we must prioritise CAR because of the stakes that are there, because of the status and the plight of the people. They are in deserving of the highest level of our priority. We have, as humanitarian organizations, given it operationally our top priority, so, no matter how stretched we are elsewhere in the world, we are mobilizing additional resources and people to CAR and have been doing so since this crisis developed into its most recent manifestation. As humanitarian organizations we are stretched but we are nonetheless prioritising this country and we appeal to our donors for the first time to please prioritise CAR because it has been neglected for decades.