Médecins Sans Frontiéres teams in Batangafo, Central African Republic, have just completed a distribution of essential items, including plastic sheeting, mosquito nets and blankets to more than five thousand people who were forced to flee their villages after they were burned down during heavy fighting with nomadic herdsmen coming from Chad.
A lack of security forces in the area following the March coup by the opposition group Séléka (“Coalition”) against François Bozizé’s government has contributed to heavy and prolonged fighting between Central African farmers and nomadic pastoralist tribes. Between February and May about thirty villages were burned down and their inhabitants forced to hide in the bush. During the distribution MSF medical staff also evaluated the health status of children in the area, as a nutritional emergency is feared in the country, due to a slowdown of farming activities during the coup.
Disputes between Central African farmers and nomadic pastoralist tribes (in this case Mbarara, coming from the neighbouring country Chad) have been ongoing over the last decade, when the nomads come to Central African Republic in search of pastures for their herds. The cattle invade the fields (planted with manioc, the staple food in the area, as well as corn or peanuts) and local farmers defend themselves by killing some animals. The Mbarara then react by resorting to force. “In other years the Central African armed forces (FACA) tried to contain the disputes, but this year nobody controlled the Mbarara”, explained carlos Francisco, MSF field coordinator in Batangafo. The first village was burned down in February and the last one in May. In total 25 villages and six hamlets were burned down, within a radius of between fourteen and 89 kilometres from Batangafo. The population took shelter in the bush or fields, or in nearby villages where they were put up by relatives or neighbours.
The distribution carried out by MSF has provided more than one thousand families (five thousand people) with shelter, mosquito nets to prevent malaria, jerry cans to collect and store water and personal hygiene items. “These people have lost everything, all their belongings were burned, along with their thatched homes, which are no longer habitable”, added Francisco. “Their huts can no longer protect them against the rains; and in addition to jerry cans for the water, the main need is shelter, and this is what we have provided”. Francisco says the nomadic tribes have now left the area, so some of the IDP’s are returning home. According to the field coordinator, “in those villages that have not been totally burned down we have seen that some returnees are using the distributed plastic sheeting as temporary roofs. Yet those coming from hamlets and locations which were totally destroyed cannot return as they are scared to rebuild for fear of new attacks next year”.
Along with the distribution MSF teams are holding three mobile clinics per week to provide care to a population of 2100 displaced people.
During the distribution of non food items, MSF’s community health agents and medics have taken the opportunity to assess the health condition of children, who are vulnerable to malnutrition. “We have started seeing an increase in malnutrition rates. It is not alarming yet, but we need to take into account that many families have lost their grain stocks. The next crop won’t come in for three or four months, so over the summer we may see an alarming increase in malnutrition”, concluded the field coordinator. On top of malnutrition fears, an increase in the number of malaria cases is also expected after many of those who hid in the bush may have been exposed to mosquitoes carrying the disease. This increase in malaria cases is already being detected in hospitals and health centres where MSF is working.