Central African Republic: 600,000 children are in need of help (image: Save The Children)
I have just spent a week in the Central African Republic, a poor country which has been pushed to the brink of catastrophe by fighting between different militias. As is so often the case, women and children are paying the price for the actions of others.
The scenes I saw there were shocking. There were bodies in the streets, and children shot and injured in the fighting. In the capital, Bangui, thousands of people huddled around a monastery frightened for their lives and seeking refuge. I met a mother who had been there for days with her seven children, sleeping out in the open with no shelter from the torrential rain. We also spoke to a father, crippled with pain from injuries inflicted by militias and terrified about what would happen to his children when he was not able to protect them.
Save the Children are doing what we can to help the families affected by the violence, supporting health clinics, hospitals and safe spaces for children. But to operate to full capacity, we need a secure environment. More than 500 people have been killed in Bangui alone in the past week and over 400,000 people have fled their homes in rural areas to live in the bush.
I met a mother who had been there for days with her seven children, sleeping out in the open with no shelter from the torrential rain. We also spoke to a father, crippled with pain from injuries inflicted by militias and terrified about what would happen to his children when he was not able to protect them.
For that reason, the French deployment following the United Nations Security Council’s decision to give a new stronger mandate to French and African troops could not have come soon enough. For the families I met, the foreign troops are their best hope for peace and security.
As we drove through ghost villages on the road north of Bouar, a remote town nine hours from the capital, I saw the scale of the problem for myself. Frightened villagers slowly emerged from the bush when we stopped, whole families who had been hiding out in the forest with no supplies or protection.
One mother told me how marauding militia burned her house and shot her husband, forcing her to flee into the bush with her four children, the youngest only 6 months. I saw the impact of this terrible conflict on children, some who had lost parents, others who had lost limbs in the violence. At the Save the Children-supported hospital we met a little girl Celine, aged 6, who had been shot in the arm fleeing an attack. Sadly she was so badly injured her arm had to be amputated.
This is just the tip of the iceberg – 600,000 children are now in dire need of our help. The majority of children are out of school and a third of the country does not know where their next meal is coming from.
It is vital that the African Union and French forces deploy outside of Bangui, to the remote areas where much of the violence goes unseen. We also need the world to be more generous. Save the Children needs £1 million to help treat and protect CAR’s vulnerable children as part of our emergency humanitarian aid.
The Central African Republic is one of the world’s forgotten emergencies, but we must not forget this poor country and its children in their hour of need.