Emergency & Humanitarian Response: Central African Republic


For the past three years, since March of 2013, thousands of people in the Central African Republic (CAR) have been killed in violence that erupted when the Seleka rebel coalition launched a rebellion that ended then President Francois Bozize’s rule and put into power Michel Djotodia, the first Muslim head of state. Non-Muslim communities strengthened traditional self-help groups called anti-Balaka to protect themselves against increasing violence and political leaders in both groups manipulated religious affiliations to create and feed a cycle of retribution and lawlessness. As a result of the fighting, large portions of the minority Muslim population left CAR, many of which took refuge in neighboring countries.

In January 2014, Michel Djotodia was forced out of power by regional and international pressure and helped establish a National Transitional Council that appointed an interim president. The interim government was charged with halting the violence, re-establishing civic order and government services and organizing the election of a new legitimate government.

In March 2016, Faustin Touadera, a former prime minister and professor, was democratically elected to the presidency of CAR. He brings with him great hope but there are great challenges ahead for him and his country.

Current situation:

In November 2015 Pope Francis visited CAR in a remarkable show of solidarity and reconciliation. That spirit of reconciliation brought about by Pope Francis and the success of the recent elections for the presidency and parliament, have catalyzed positive movement forward for CAR. However, the challenges that CAR’s new president faces are enormous.

Humanitarian Needs: The humanitarian situation in the country is dire, because people are not able to meet their basic needs. Three years of instability have devastated the already very weak health system in CAR and food security has deteriorated to an alarming level.

  • The need in CAR continues to exceed the available resources and delivery of aid. The entire population of CAR is impacted by the complete lack of basic social services and a full half of all citizens are facing acute humanitarian needs.[1] In 2015, 50% of those living in CAR faced extreme or severe acute malnutrition and 66% of the population today still has no access to basic health services. Only a third of CAR’s population has access to safe drinking water. Over 90% of people living in rural areas lack access to latrines and 20% of the population is displaced (over 421,000 are internally displaced and 478,000 are refugees in other countries).[2]
  • Malaria remains the leading cause of death in CAR and under-five mortality and maternal mortality are among the highest in the world. Only half of the country’s health facilities are functioning, and those that are rely on international support.
  • A joint WFP/FAO assessment in March 2016 found last year’s crop to be more than 50% below the average pre-crisis yield. Meager harvests have resulted in an unprecedented level of food insecurity with more than half of the population negatively impacted. According to UNICEF, since the beginning of 2016, 6,324 children have been treated for severe acute malnutrition and in some areas of the country stunting rates of children are close to 50%.

Constraints hindering return: Although internally displaced people and refugees may wish to return to their homes now that a new government is safely in place, many cite poor sanitation in abandoned neighborhoods, lack of water sources and continued insecurity as constraints to their homecoming. In the western part of the country, other issues stand in the way as homes and properties of refugees have sometimes been occupied by inhabitants who stayed behind.

Security: The security situation is unpredictable at this time.  Sporadic incidents of violence continue to occur throughout the country, as well as robberies and intrusions into homes. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is also still active in some areas. In fact, in the first quarter of 2016 the LRA was responsible for more abductions in a single quarter than in the previous six years combined.

  • The Church: During the heavy fighting of the past three years, Church institutions provided refuge and humanitarian aid to those who fled the violence. The Church led the efforts to create the Platform of Central Africa Religious Leaders who, at great risk to their personal safety, toured the country to convince combatants on both sides of the war to end the violence and start negotiations towards peace. The Church continues to support those who have returned home with distributions of tarps, seeds, and tools for planting. Local bishops continue to work with Muslim and Evangelical leaders in the Platform to promote peace and reconciliation efforts. The Platform is working in partnership with CRS, World Vision, Islamic Relief and Aegis Trust to expand and extend their peacebuilding efforts to build a sustainable social cohesion that will resist future attempts to create conflict in the country.


Our Response:

Catholic Relief Services remains active in CAR, working with the Catholic Church and Caritas/CAR to assist all those in need.  CRS has been working in CAR since 2007 and currently has field operations in Bangui, Bossangoa, Bangassou, Rafai, Zemio, Obo, Mbaiki and Boda.

The country program continues to respond to the great need for the inclusion of trauma healing activities within programming, as well as the integration of social cohesion interventions. CRS provides food security and livelihoods support to farmer groups, shelter and cash for work training and support, seed distributions and SILC (microfinance) interventions.

CRS has been implementing the Secure, Empowered Connected Communities (SECC) project in CAR since 2012. The goal of the project is to enable cohesive, self-directed, and connected communities to avoid or reduce their exposure to threats associated with the presence of armed groups and ongoing conflict in areas most vulnerable to attack. The 34 communities participating in SECC in southeastern CAR and 60 in northeastern DRC live under the existing threat of LRA attack and many have also experienced conflict between ethnic or religious groups. The project has established 31 community protection committees in southeastern CAR and supported them in developing community protection plans which include an early warning system for LRA and other armed group attacks. In addition to community protection work, the project emphasizes relationships and trauma healing. To restore horizontal and vertical relationships, the project organizes inter-community dialogues as well as trust-building meetings with local authorities and trauma healing workshops. It also trains journalists in conflict-sensitive reporting and works to reintegrate LRA survivors into communities.

CRS has also recently been awarded the CAR Interfaith Peacebuilding Partnership project or CIPP by USAID. On CIPP, CRS is partnering with the Central African Religious Platform, Islamic Relief Worldwide, World Vision and Aegis Trust to lay a foundation for social cohesion and peacebuilding.  CIPP has three complementary objectives. The first is that livelihood security is strengthened as a foundation for peace. The second is that trauma healing and peace education training contribute to social cohesion. And the third is that CAR civil society, with an emphasis on youth and women, will be fully integrated into program activities.

CIPP was officially launched in early 2016 and the SECC Project received a one year extension from the U.S. government in mid-2016.

Policy Recommendations for the US Government:

  1. Provide adequate humanitarian assistance. Currently 2.3 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance[3] and 1.28 million people are food insecure.[4] With two poor planting seasons in many areas, and lack of agricultural inputs, dedicated resources need to be dispersed immediately. Further we recommend that humanitarian assistance:
  • Support the immediate needs of the many internally displaced persons and refugees, focusing on protection;
  • Integrate peacebuilding and conflict resolution activities to address integral human development;
  • Prioritize longer-term needs such as reconstruction of people’s productive assets, keeping conflict sensitivity in mind;
  • Support individuals, families and households to recover from trauma;
  • Be distributed directly to NGOs that are already on the ground, have the capacity to scale up, build off of experience and make efficient use of funds.

[1] Humanitarian Country Team CAR, Overview of Humanitarian Situation in CAR and Recommendations for MINUSCA’s Strategic Review. May 2016.

[2] Humanitarian Country Team CAR, Overview of Humanitarian Situation in CAR and Recommendations for MINUSCA’s Strategic Review. May 2016.


[3] UNOCHA, March 2016

[4] FAO, April 2015