April 30, 2009

Bangui/New York, April 30, 2009 — A new escalation of violence between the army and a rebel group in the north of Central African Republic (CAR), has forced, once again, thousands of people to flee their homes. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) estimates there could be around 8,000 newly displaced in the region of Kabo and Moyen Sido. They have sought refuge in the bush, where they live in particularly harsh conditions in the current rainy season, with no access to healthcare and out of reach of humanitarian aid.

“Some villages have been burned down, forcing the population to escape with nothing but their clothes,” explains Gabriel Sánchez Ibarra, head of mission for MSF in CAR. “Others have moved out of fear as this population has suffered several attacks and displacement in the past because of the ongoing conflict. We are strongly concerned about the situation of the population. Our priority is to access and assist them,” adds Sánchez Ibarra. “Up to now, we have only had a reduced access to the population affected.”

Over the last two weeks, ongoing clashes in and around Kabo have had dramatic consequences for the population. MSF has visited several empty villages, some of them partially or almost completely burnt down and looted. In Bokayanga, for instance, people fled to the bush due to insecurity, losing their food and their seeds for the next harvest, when their houses were burnt. The health center of the village has been looted as well and is now closed. Most of the displaced population has fled without any food, shelter or tools, and they have a very limited access to water.

“We have been able to visit some villages this past weekend. In Bokayanga, some people told us the villagers are too scared to come out to look for health care or food. In another village, completely empty, we spoke to the only boy we found and he explained how the population had fled and settled in groups of rudimentary shelters in the bush,” says Sánchez Ibarra.

Extremely worrying is the dramatic drop in consultations that the team has observed in Kabo. There’s been a clear decrease of pediatric cases, and almost 50 percent of HIV and TB have dropped their life saving treatment while half of those in urgently needed treatment for malnutrition have likewise fled. Many people simply don’t consider the hospital safe.  Following the clashes, MSF treated 14 wounded people without knowing if there are more wounded people in hiding or unable to reach much needed medical care. On the other hand, from the remaining patients that do come to the clinic, MSF is seeing an increase in medical problems like general body pain or mental health disorders linked to stress due to violence, fear, and recent displacement.

As the population seems too scared to come to the hospital, MSF is receiving mostly women and children, but ever fewer men; the organization is setting up new strategies to reach them, such as mobile clinics by foot or by bike deep in the bush.

“The mobile clinics organized by bike have allowed us to assist some of the displaced population who has sought refuge in the bush. They explained to us how they have spent the night with nothing to cover themselves or protect them from the mosquitoes and flies, under the rain, with no drinking water. People are using stagnant water to drink and to cook,” explains Ibarra Sánchez.

MSF is an impartial and independent humanitarian organization that provides free medical care to any injured or sick persons with absolute impartiality and neutrality, regardless of their political, religious or military affiliation. MSF continues to seek new ways to deliver much needed medical aid to the people of CAR, in spite of the rising insecurity. In order to do so it is imperative that all parties continue to respect MSF's neutrality and independence. MSF has worked in the Central African Republic since 1997.