In two episodes on 1 and 14 September, about 15,600 people were forced to flee fighting between two armed groups in the town Birao, in the Northeast of CAR. The IDPs, including about 8,000 children, clustered around two MINUSCA bases, without shelter, food or water.
UNICEF and partners immediately deployed staff to Birao. Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM) partner ACTED started emergency response within three days. Despite acute logistical constraints (no access by road; limited cargo and staff airlift capacities; destroyed local market, etc.) and insecurity, the RRM teams set up emergency water distribution systems providing 60,000 liters of clean water daily to the 15,600 IDPs on two sites, built 32 emergency latrines, 16 emergency showers and distributed 2,325 tarpaulins and 4,650 mosquito nets. UNICEF child protection partner ODESCA also immediately started working with IDP children.
UNICEF supported the Government in launching the 2019-2020 school year.
Awareness-raising activities for parents and communities were conducted with the decentralized authorities, religious leaders and community radio stations.
Situation Overview & Humanitarian Needs
On 1 September, fighting broke out between two armed groups in Birao, Vakaga prefecture in northeastern CAR, marking the end of a period of relative peace in this region in recent years. The incident resulted in five people being killed and another 18 being injured (according to MINUSCA). The market as well as several houses were destroyed and most of the few NGO bases in Birao were looted. Most of the town’s population fled to the area around the MINUSCA base on the eastern outskirts of town, with a smaller number of people fleeing to the other MINUSCA base at the airstrip.
Tensions remained high, and on 14 September, a second round of fighting opposing the same groups caused 23 deaths and an unknown number of injured among the combatants. More IDPs arrived on the two main sites from the town and surrounding areas, with OCHA estimating the number of IDPs in Birao at about 15,600 at the end of September (13,800 at MINUSCA and 1,800 at the airstrip), not counting inaccessible regroupings outside of town.
The humanitarian situation at the IDP sites in Birao was extremely precarious during the first days of the crisis, in particular for the estimated 8,000 children, with no access to food and water, and few opportunities to seek shelter.
Despite the logistical constraints (no road access and aid delivery only by small cargo planes) and security restrictions (not more than 37 humanitarian personnel in Birao at any time to enable full evacuation), the humanitarian community managed to provide timely emergency assistance. UNICEF staff and partners deployed within days to the area. UNICEF national partner ODESCA immediately started a child protection response and an ACTED Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM) team launched a WASH and non-food items (NFI) intervention on 5 September.
In addition to the crisis in Birao, September was marked by renewed tensions in the Northwest. MINUSCA launched a military operation against an armed group in the area on 25 September, but the humanitarian consequences remained very limited.
The response to the polio epidemic, co-led by UNICEF, continued throughout the month. Humanitarian actors including UNICEF are also gradually reinforcing Ebola preparedness, and the Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP) released a three-month contingency action plan in early September.
Finally, CAR remains one of the most dangerous crises in the world for humanitarian workers. Between January and September 2019, OCHA recorded 218 incidents directly affecting humanitarian personnel or property, compared to 319 in the same period in 2018. Despite the overall decrease, the number and severity of incidents leaving humanitarians wounded has increased, with 34 humanitarian workers injured between January and September 2019, compared to 19 during the same period in 2018.