19 January 2014

Central African Republic: EU, UN Call for More Assistance

One million people have fled the violence in the Central African Republic. Although the EU, UN and numerous aid groups are working hard to alleviate the humanitarian crisis, the country needs more assistance.

Although polarizing President Michel Djotodia resigned his post, the fighting between Christian and Muslim militia groups has not stopped. People are running for their lives.

The conflict in the Central African Republic has escalated since the end of 2013. Approximately 4.6 million people live in the country, one of the poorest in the world. Food, medicine, clean water and sanitary facilities are desperately needed. Emergency shelters and simple household goods like blankets are also in short supply.

The precarious humanitarian situation is complicated by a political vacuum. "At the moment, there is no state in the Central African Republic," said Jean Louis de Brouwer, the EU Commission's Humanitarian and Civil Protection operations director. "There's no finance ministry. In Bangui, the ministry buildings are empty. The civil servants that still remain have not been paid in months." The country now has to start from scratch, de Brouwer added.

EU plans peacekeeping mission

In 2013, the majority of humanitarian aid for the Central African Republic came from the European Union, some 76 million euros ($102 million) in total. The EU Commission provided 39 million euros, while the respective member states came up with the rest.

But the EU isn't providing much direct assistance on the ground. Instead, Brussels gives the aid money to partners such as the World Food Programme. These partners then buy food, for example, and distribute it throughout the country. On Monday (20.01.2013), the EU will announce how much money it plans to contribute this year.

In addition, the EU foreign ministers are planning to back a peacekeeping operation, designed to support French troops already in the Central African Republic. The EU will need a UN mandate for the mission, which the Security Council is likely to approve. Once the UN has given its blessing, the EU will begin planning the details of the deployment.

But every EU member state can decided how it participates in the peacekeeping mission. Germany, for example, will not send troops and doesn't plan to operate in the country. Instead, Berlin will provide strategic support, such as airlifting soldiers in neighboring countries.

Monday presidential election

Brussels has assumed that the peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic will last four to six months. The goal is to remain in the country until the African Union or an international peacekeeping force can take over security responsibilities.

President Nguendet: 'The chaos is over'

The current interim president, Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet, has vowed to end the "anarchy," warning Christian and Muslim militias to lay down their arms or risk being shot.

"The chaos is over," Nguendet said. "The pillaging is over; the revenge attacks are over. The Central African people must regain their honor." He called on refugees to return to their homes.

But the chaos is not over by any stretch of the imagination. There continue to be reports of murders. Overnight Thursday, at least seven people were killed in the capital, Bangui. On Monday, a new president will be elected and the people hope that with a new government, peace will return to the country.

'Money for basic needs'

In December, the UN called for a so-called "Strategic Response Plan" for the Central African Republic. The goal is to collect $247 million for the country in 100 days. But this goal is still a long way off - only six percent of the target sum has been raised so far.

The donor countries should put the Central African Republic higher on their priority list, according to the director of UN humanitarian operations, John Ging. It's about money for the most basic needs, he said.

"We are only appealing for money for the very basic needs - to feed people, to provide basic medical care, clean water, the basic for shelter and so on," Ging continued.

That's the case in the capital, Bangui, where many people have been hit hard by the conflict. Around 500,000 internally displaced people are there. The UN refugee agency has set up tents for around 20,000 of them, while the World Food Programme has distributed basic foodstuffs for around 300,000 people. Other aid organizations like the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders are also operating in the Central African Republic.

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