10 August 2009
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE BY DEPUTY EMERGENCY RELIEF COORDINATOR ON HER RECENT


VISIT TO CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC


The Central African Republic was at a critical crossroads which could see a reversal of the modest gains made in 2008 or a consolidation of the progress towards national dialogue and agreement with rebel groups, United Nations Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Catherine Bragg said at Headquarters today.


At a press conference on her five-day visit to the Central African Republic beginning on 27 July, she noted that the humanitarian fund for the country had increased significantly in 2008, leading to greater returns of internally displaced persons.  In July, however, resumed fighting in parts of the country had stalled the momentum of returns and triggered notable delays in the electoral process.  With that, humanitarian aid had all but faded, said Ms. Bragg, who is also Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.


Ms. Bragg said she had met with the country’s leadership, members of the international community, local and international non-governmental organizations and key diplomats.  She had also visited victims of the conflict and humanitarian workers in the north-eastern, north-central and north-western parts of the country.


Although the Central African Republic was rich in natural resources, it was the second-poorest country on earth after Sierra Leone, she said.  Government institutions were “near absent” outside Bangui, the capital, its forces were very weak, insecurity was rampant and rebel groups seemed more content with marginalization rather than any specific agenda, as pockets of lawlessness persisted.


The country’s challenges were related to “spillovers” from neighbouring Chad and Sudan, she said, struck at the same time by “home grown” challenges.  The national borders were very porous, contributing to weapons proliferation and the decision by disenfranchised groups to take up armed rebellion.  More than 1 million people –- mostly in the north -- were estimated to have been affected by the conflict.  Of those, 137,000 refugees had fled to Chad and Cameroon, and 125,000 were internally displaced.


Describing the humanitarian situation as unique, she said the affected population had fled into the bush to protect themselves from armed elements.  They all lived in fear of Government as well as rebel forces.  The population was traumatized because some people had been displaced repeatedly in recent years, and lived in deplorable conditions, without food, water or medical services.


The humanitarian operating environment was also very tricky, owing to difficult access, she said, adding that the journey from Bangui to the north-east took five days.  Access was also hindered by the unpredictable and volatile security environment, as well as the authorities’ outright denial of the dire situation, she said, noting that she herself had been unable to visit the north-central part of the country owing to security conditions.


While security and peace were critical to addressing those challenges, the need for a humanitarian response remained crucial, and the needs might be increasing, she said.  A major concern was the lack of funding for humanitarian work, which had decreased significantly so far in 2009.  The current appeal was for $97 million, down from $106 million –- not because of reduced need, but because a lack of funding had resulted in some projects being taken off the list.  In sum, there was a $48 million funding gap requiring urgent international action.


Asked to identify the humanitarian organizations on the ground and what percentage of the population they were reaching, she said that, in the northern region, about 1 million people, out of 4 million, were in need of humanitarian aid.  The displaced could be found in the north-west, north-central and north-east.  Some areas were well-served, but in the north-central region, access was difficult because of fluctuating conflicts; non-governmental organizations and the Red Cross were there, but not the United Nations.  The north-west was only partially covered by the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT), and only three non-governmental organizations were present.  MINURCAT’s deployment had been slow, and access in that area was made more difficult by the lack of infrastructure and, during the rainy season, impassable roads.  Moreover, the population was dispersed.


Pressed for a solution to limited humanitarian access in the Central African Republic, she reiterated that even areas under MINURCAT’s mandate were “very inaccessible” owing to a lack of infrastructure and the dispersed population.  Other areas fell under peacekeeping missions in neighbouring countries, the rest of the country was under the United Nations Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic (BONUCA), soon to the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic (BINUCA).  There were myriad multilateral interventions, but in terms of a correlation between access and presence, access had to do with physical inaccessibility and the nature of dispersal.  However, MINURCAT’s efforts to bring peace and law and order into the area were welcome.


Responding to a question about Sri Lanka, she said she had seen only “bits and pieces” of the report on the investigation and wished to see it in full before reacting.  In terms of the camps for the internally displaced, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) had humanitarian access, as did the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), among others.  The Government should facilitate the rate of return, which was very low, as well as freedom of movement and family reunification.


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For information media • not an official record