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The humanitarian situation in the Central African Republic is becoming dramatic, according to Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga of Bangui.
“It’s catastrophic,” said the Archbishop. Basic services like health and education have collapsed following a coup, food is scarce, businesses are struggling to survive and public sector salaries have gone unpaid. [Read Caritas Africa statement on the situation in Central African Republic]
“The needs in my country are great. People are ill and don’t have medicines,” he said. Reports show that many medical clinics are either closed or have no medicine available.
“They don’t have food. Every evening for the past week there’s been a ‘concert of saucepans’ in Bangui. People are out on the streets banging their pots because they are so hungry,” said the Church leader.
Conflict erupted in December 2012 when the ‘Séléka’ rebel coalition launched a series of attacks, seizing Bangui in March. An estimated 206,000 people are internally displaced in the country, while more than 50,000 have fled mainly to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon and Chad.
The Catholic Church has called for a return to law and order.
“Violence is not the solution,” said the Archbishop. “Armed men pillage in broad daylight, women are raped and they’re too ashamed to speak about it. People don’t feel safe.”
The Church has reported an increase in interfaith tensions between Christians and Muslims. “We’ve gone to villages and gathered imams and priests and said that we need fraternity,” said the Archbishop. “Together they denounced violence, vandalism and the rape. As one body we can fight back.”
Caritas Central African Republic and its diocesan partner Caritas Bangui have provided hot meals to over 5,000 people forced to flee as well as healthcare for the sick and those injured in the fighting.
“Recently a number of people ended up having to sleep in a hospital because their homes were pillaged. Caritas gave them food,” said the Archbishop.
“We’re taking care of the children,” he said. “They’re frightened. We have staff who play with them. They play ball, dance, do role-play and theatre. They talk about what’s happened and it helps to reduce their trauma.”
Schools are closed or poorly attended, mostly because of security risks. Children have been seized to be used as child soldiers. The Archbishop said normal life must continue: “Caritas has helped encouraged children to go back to school. One of our goals is to bring children of different religions together. Muslims and Catholics can live together.
“As Caritas we want to bring hope and offer life.”
Caritas has launched an international appeal for over €700,000 to support its work for peace and reconciliation, help people meet their immediate needs and re-establish their livelihoods as well as offer basic health services in nine dioceses.
July is a crucial month for the Central African Republic as it is the last planting season for most farmers – people will be faced with a even greater food crisis by the end of 2013 if farmers haven’t been able to sow their crops.
Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga was speaking from Rome, where he received the pallium from Pope Francis.