The obstacles to humanitarian access in the Central African Republic (CAR) include high levels of violence and criminality, extremely challenging logistics, and an under-capacitated humanitarian response. The large number of armed groups complicates efforts at negotiated access agreements, and since violence against aid agencies stems largely from opportunistic criminality and banditry, such agreements provide limited protection. The near complete absence of a paved road network adds to the difficulties of reaching the nearly 2.6 million people in CAR who need aid and who are dispersed over a wide geographic area. Mired in protracted civil conflict, the country hosts an under-funded United Nations peacekeeping force and a smaller than usual international humanitarian response relative to the severity of the crisis, which is beset with chronic challenges in recruitment and retention of personnel. The instability, weak capacity, and logistics issues all conspire to cause what one humanitarian described as ‘too much of a supply-driven, mechanical response’, rather than one that is tailored to the needs of the affected population. People we surveyed in CAR indicated a markedly more negative appraisal of the humanitarian response than we have seen in other SCORE contexts to date (Afghanistan and northeast Nigeria).
The survey found that:
- The aid presence is static or shrinking in most areas
- aid is not seen to be reaching the areas where it is needed most
- people that received aid said it did not cover their basic needs
- insecurity is the principal constraint to humanitarian access.
Despite the challenges, some humanitarian organisations in CAR have had success worth noting. A few, such as Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), have managed to negotiate access with armed groups in specific areas across the country. Others have adopted a highly-localised, multisectoral and community-driven approach, such as the IMPACT Initiatives/ACTED AGORA initiative, which reduces the need for people to travel to access aid, and for aid to travel to reach them. As armed conflict continues to simmer, the most promising humanitarian practices have been focusing on people’s access to aid and services, rather than only the aid agencies’ access to populations.
Ongoing armed conflict and generalised insecurity in CAR has resulted in a severe and long-running humanitarian crisis. In 2013, a coup touched off fighting between rival coalitions of Muslim and Christian militias that brought the country to the brink of genocide. International intervention brought the worst of the fighting under control and facilitated a democratic election, but seven years later, the government has control over only a small portion of the country and atrocities against civilians continue. By April 2020, nearly 700,000 people had been displaced, 616,000 had fled into neighbouring countries, and 350,000 had returned to their places of origin—295,000 of whom are in need of protection from violence.1 More than half of the population (2.6 million people) need humanitarian assistance of some kind and 1.6 million people are in a severely precarious situation. In March 2020, the first case of Covid-19 was confirmed, threatening to layer on a major health crisis and further economic hardship. Health facilities are scarce and there are only 7.3 health professionals per 10,000 people in the country.2 All 555 of the randomly sampled survey respondents reported that they were in need of assistance, while only 29 per cent reported having received any aid in the past year (Figure 1).