In early November, more than 10,000 people sought shelter in a Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)-supported hospital in Batangafo, northern Central African Republic (CAR), following intense fighting between two armed groups. Weeks later the situation remains tense, despite a relative lull in the conflict, and more than 5,000 people—many of whom lost everything in fires that ravaged the city during the fighting—remain at the hospital in extremely precarious conditions.
"It was like a horror scene. We saw hundreds of households in flames. It was awful," says Helena Cardellach, MSF field coordinator in Batangafo. "It all began on Wednesday, October 31. We received one wounded patient at the hospital. He was a member of one of the armed groups that controls the city. After this incident, violent clashes erupted, eventually destroying a large part of the city."
In retaliation for the wounded man, one of the armed groups attacked three internally displaced persons' camps housing tens of thousands, burning large parts of the camps to the ground. "Even now you can still smell the ash,” adds Cardellach. “All the houses were burned, as well as the market and the chapel.”
The MSF-run Batangafo Hospital received around 20 victims, some suffering from serious bullet wounds and burns. The thousands of displaced people still sheltering at the hospital are essentially trapped in limbo. "We are talking about people who have nothing, and who are living today in conditions of very poor hygiene," says Cardellach. With limited access to health care, they face serious risks of malaria, diarrhea, infections, and epidemics.
MSF is currently proceeding with an emergency response to install additional water facilities in the hospital to guarantee a minimum standard of hygiene for the displaced. We are particularly concerned about the access to health care for those who fled into the periphery and the bush.
"For the moment, Batangafo is a ghost town,” says Cardellach. “In the morning when there is a lull [in fighting] people come out of their refuge in the hospital to try to live their lives, and then they go back to the hospital at night. These are scenes of desolation. The protection of the population must be ensured.”
CAR’s civilian population continues to pay the heaviest price of ongoing political unrest and violence, with more than 570,000 refugees in neighboring countries and nearly 690,000 internally displaced people out of a population of around 4.5 million.