Is This the Worst Crisis That Nobody’s Paying Attention To?

“We live like stray dogs,” one man said in an All Africa article, explaining what it’s like in the Central African Republic (CAR) these days.

Is this the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet that no one is paying attention to?

Over 200,000 people have been displaced and 1.2 million cut off from basic services – the country’s total population is just 4.5 million. In addition, Darfuris in the Bambari refugee camp in CAR have reportedly not have access to food for two months, and a “mysterious disease” has emerged.

Ranking plights like this seems crass, but there’s no doubt that the people of the CAR are suffering on a massive scale and that, besides the occasional speech from the UN and humanitarian agencies, very few are taking note of its intensity. A report from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) from October 16 states:

In Bossangoa an estimated 28,000 people are sheltering in the Catholic Mission, far exceeding its capacity; 1,200 people are in a hospital, effectively turning half of the building into a makeshift camp; a further 1,000 people are seeking shelter next to an airstrip; while around 400 others have gathered in a school. As the rainy season continues, those in the bush are also particularly at risk of contracting malaria – the number one killer in the country.

Tension has been brewing for a long time in the impoverished state, but things took a harsh turn in March when groups who have long opposed former president François Bozizé came together in an alliance of militias known as Séléka and overthrew the governmentViolence has reigned since then, with reports of killings and widespread looting, rape, kidnapping, executions and torture. The security council has described the situation as “a total breakdown of law and order.”  This subsequent brutality has forced citizens to flee their homes and gather together for safety, living in torrid conditions ripe for disease outbreak.

“People have no shelter and they sleep wherever they can, inside the church, school or under trees. It is crowded and people cook, eat, sleep, wash and defecate in the same area. Under these disastrous hygienic conditions, the risk of disease outbreaks is high,” said Ellen Van der Velden, MSF head of mission in Central African Republic, following a visit to the sites.

The CAR wasn’t in good shape before this deadly crisis erupted, consistently ranking as one of the poorest and most neglected countries on earth, and is totally unequipped to deal with a major outbreak of disease.

A September report from Human Rights Watch called “I Can Still Smell the Dead” details the violence the citizens are escaping to seek shelter in groups. Many who haven’t made it to one of the central spots are in the bush, reportedly living on cassava leaves and expected to starve. It will be incredibly difficult for relief teams to assist them.

There have been discussions about bringing UN Peacekeepers to the region. As one of France’s former colonies, some in the CAR are hoping the nation will lead the charge and intervene, feeling their crisis has been eclipsed by Syria and Mali. “We’ve seen coups before, but nothing like this,” said Bangui journalist Steve Niko in an article in Reuters. “In Mali the population suffered in one area, but here we’re suffering everywhere. It’s like our crisis has been forgotten.”