Expert Opinion

Central African Republic: can it get any worse?

According to IDMC’s latest report, the ongoing violence and instability resulted in up to half of the country’s population in CAR needing assistance; among them 554,800 internally displaced people (IDPs). In addition, tens of thousands of people, many of them Muslims, have fled in fear for their lives to neighbouring countries.

The situation remains volatile. To this day killings, violence against women, torture of civilians, and other human rights violations continue. The needs of IDPs are enormous: they cannot protect themselves from harm, their health is suffering, they have no water, food, or shelter – their daily reality is one of extreme hardship. Floods, common during the rainy season, only add to their burden, particularly for those who took shelter in makeshift dwellings which are unable to withstand such extreme weather events.

The situation is bad… but for IDPs it can only get worse

CAR, one of the poorest countries in the world, is ranked 180 out of nearly 190 countries by UNDP’s Human Development Index, and this current conflict, and subsequent displacement, is having a tremendous impact on an already weak economy.

Recent assessments by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) found that not only the impact of the crisis, but actual displacement itself has caused certain markets to collapse. One reason for this is that most of those displaced from rural areas were farmers, and their mass exodus has meant that agricultural activities have stopped. Furthermore, many farmers who stayed were not able to prepare their land due to the lack of seeds, looting or destruction of their tools and insecurity, 

This untimely halting of agricultural production means that the food crisis could deepen and extend over a longer period of time. Already struggling to access food, many displaced families have been forced to reduce their daily food consumption drastically to one meal a day or even going without for several days.

As such, the economic consequences of displacement add to the more direct consequences – such as legal or physical security – and act as a compounding factor to the existing vulnerabilities displaced people face. Without food or a means to work and make a living, their journey out of displacement becomes even longer as their displacement becomes more protracted and increasingly harder to resolve.  IDPs in CAR are at risk of remaining heavily reliant on aid, particularly in terms of food distributions, for an extended period of time. 

Beyond food markets, displacement has affected many other markets and supply chains. Scores of wholesalers, traders and transporters, many of whom are Muslims, were displaced. As a result, their businesses and trade networks have effectively been destroyed. In February, only one in four large-scale wholesalers in the country remained active. Additionally, stocks have been looted by armed groups and criminals, which will make it harder to restart trade and economic activity once security conditions allow.

What is next?

First and foremost, it is critical that the provision of life-saving emergency assistance continues in CAR. However, protecting people from harm only addresses part of the picture; a development response is needed, and sooner rather than later.

Alongside managing the enormous and urgent impacts of violence, the state should request further support from the international community to help re-launch its economy. This will help to break the current vicious cycle of vulnerability and will build the economic resilience of CARs citizens; offering an alternative and more sustainable, path out of conflict. 

For situations such as in CAR, tailor-made development responses are now needed to help rebuild communities.  A focus should be placed on boosting crop production and fostering local familial farming, for example. Efforts must be made to help re-establish trade networks, and supply chains by investing in infrastructure, building social cohesion and making the country attractive to investment again, however small. As well as this, CAR has immense natural resources including diamonds, gold and uranium.  Improving their management and how they are extracted is paramount to ensure that the country can reap their benefits in a more sustainable and equitable way.

The road ahead is long and winding, and the challenges for the government are enormous. But small changes can begin chipping away at people’s dependence on food distributions and will provide incentives for them to return from IDP sites to rebuild their communities. As more IDPs begin to return, this would also serve as a pull-factor for other displaced people to do the same.

For more information on the internal displacement situation in CAR, please see IDMC’s latest country overview: “Central African Republic: amid extreme poverty and state fragility, more robust response needed”.