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People queue for food in a conflict affected communityPeople queue for food in a conflict affected communityPeople queue for food in a conflict affected community

The Central African Republic Crisis explained

The Central African Republic Crisis explained

For a decade now, the people of the Central African Republic (CAR) have faced bouts of violence that have displaced approximately 1 in 5 residents. The violence that broke out in 2012 escalated sharply in 2017, and in 2020 and 2021 with contested elections, leading to a resurgence of violence and unrest. Much of this toll has gone unreported in UK media. Updated for 2023, here’s what you need to know about the Central African Republic crisis.

The Central African Republic crisis: fast facts

  • The Central African Republic (CAR) has a population of approximately 6.1 million people and gained independence from France in 1960
  • More than 85% of the population lacks electricity
  • As of 2020, life expectancy was 55 years
  • As of March 2023, 741,000 Central Africans were registered as refugees.
  • The UNHCR estimates an additional 483,000 Central Africans are internally displaced
  • 3.4 million Central Africans require humanitarian assistance — over 55% of the population
  • CAR is consistently ranked at or near the bottom of the UNDP’s annual Human Development Index (HDI), making it one of the least developed countries in the world. In 2022 it had the fourth lowest HDI score, behind only South Sudan, Chad and Niger.

1. The latest crisis in CAR has been going on for over a decade…

In late 2012, a number of armed groups from the North of the country formed a coalition and launched a rebellion culminating in a coup d’état. In response, groups of armed militias formed. The situation quickly deteriorated, spiralling out of control throughout the country. At one time, almost half the capital’s population fled to informal camps and over 100,000 people took refuge in the city’s airport. Under international pressure, at the end of 2013 the President stepped-down and a transitional government was put into place.

By 2016, it seemed that CAR was gradually transitioning to peace and stability. The following year, the government signed a peace treaty with 13 of the 14 main armed groups. Despite this, violence surged in the southern and central regions of CAR in 2017. 

A contentious presidential election in December 2020 led to another spike in violence that began in the run-up to the election and continued throughout 2021. During the election, some 200,000 people were forced to flee their homes. Almost half of them were children. 

Alain* and baby Christian* sitting in a chair.
Alain* and baby Christian* in Ngata village.. Alain is a hard worker who wants the best for his family and community but the conflict in CAR has impacted all his plans to provide for them. The crisis has also affected his wife and children’s health, with bad drinking water and shelter with no protection. Alain took Christian to the health centre to get emergency food from Concern and he told us with relief how he now eats and plays again. Photo: Ed Ram/Concern Worldwide

2. …but it’s only the latest in a series of crises

Ever since gaining its independence from France in 1960, the Central African Republic has been plagued with political instability, underdevelopment, and waves of violent conflict. This is a pattern for many post-colonial nations in Africa, all of which gained independence from European countries at roughly the same time. 

4. Civilians are paying the ultimate price

The violence directed at civilians in CAR over the last decade has been deliberate and devastating.

One in five Central Africans are either refugees or internally displaced due to conflict, insecurity, or flooding, while more than half of the population lack access to a reliable and sufficient source of nutritious food. Insecurity and conflict are having an alarming impact on the health system, with repeated attacks on patients, staff, medical assets and infrastructure, disrupting care. Concern had to temporarily suspend programming at the end of 2020 due to the increased violence. 

5. Hunger and health are two of the biggest concerns for Central Africans today

Beyond physical safety, Central Africans face life-threatening conditions every day. Much of this rests on high rates of hunger and a decimated healthcare system. Where families are forced to leave their homes to escape violence, they are also forced to leave their lands and food source.

CAR has the worst infant mortality rate in the world and one of the worst maternal mortality rates. Plagued by a measles epidemic since 2020, the country has also experienced major malaria epidemics, which remains the leading cause of severe illness. Life expectancy in CAR is among the lowest in the world, with the average Central African reaching just 55 years of age.

Tatiana* holding Arka* as he eats Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food
Tatiana* brought her youngest son Arka* to a clinic where he received treatment for malnutrition from Concern. Tatiana and her five children go to bed hungry as conflict has driven the price of food up and reduced the amount of food she can grow. Photo: Ed Ram/Concern Worldwide

6. Women and children are especially vulnerable to violence

Since 2021, reports of sexual and gender-based violence have been on the rise in CAR, disproportionately affecting women and girls. While men account for the majority of the conflict’s dead and wounded, women, girls, boys, and the disabled are greatly affected by difficulties in accessing basic social services such as education, sexual and reproductive healthcare, and nutrition. Women and girls are at a higher risk of abuse when they cannot access health facilities. 

Crisis in CAR: Concern’s response

Concern has been working in the Central African Republic since 2014, to provide humanitarian assistance, build resilience, and alleviate suffering in conflict-affected communities. We collaborate with local civil society organisations and local authorities to provide a holistic response, including:

  • Providing seeds and tools through seed voucher fairs
  • Improved farming practices through farmer field schools
  • Supporting families to restart vegetable gardening and fishing activities
  • Cash-for-work programs, which allow some of CAR’s most vulnerable people to access cash, while improving the country’s infrastructure (e.g. rehabilitation of roads)
  • Construction of and restoration of water points (such as boreholes and wells) that were damaged during the conflict
  • Teaching improved hygiene practices and promoting toilet construction
  • Treating acute malnutrition and illnesses in children under five  and providing vaccination and maternal health services
  • Supporting community health volunteers, who do critical work conducting health and nutrition screenings and delivering health and hygiene messaging to their communities.
Community worker at a clinic in Boyali, CAR
Buneuna Nataali is a Community worker at a clinic in Boyali, CAR Photo: Ed Ram/Concern Worldwide
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