Bangui – A few days ago a fire destroyed the makeshift shelters and all the belongings of at least 449 families in the Batangafo displaced people camp, one of the largest in the Central African Republic. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams rapidly organised and completed the distribution of emergency kits including cooking and hygiene items for all of the families.
The extremely hard situation of those affected by the fire, which started accidentally on 10 February, was not immediately addressed by other humanitarian actors. Therefore, MSF initiated a needs assessment with local authorities and representatives of the concerned families. Distribution was prepared and finally performed last Thursday.
“Some families in sectors close to the fire were partially affected but their belongings were safe, so we focused on those who really lost everything,” said the MSF project coordinator, Joao Martins. The kits were adapted to family size – some of them including up to 14 members – and included plastic shelters, blankets, ropes, various hygiene and cooking items, and a mosquito net.
“In order to do a clean and organised distribution, we asked only the heads of household to come, so no other medical activities on the side were performed, but our hospital continues to serve all the camp population and our community health workers are following up the situation of these families with a bit more attention,” Martins added.
Batangafo’s displacement camp has hosted tens of thousands of people since the end of 2014, when armed clashes and violence from different militias forced most people in town to leave their homes and seek protection in an open space between the hospital and the international peacekeeping force headquarters. People fleeing the violence in other parts of the region also went to Batangafo looking for protection and around 30,000 people live currently in this camp. A total of 450,000 Central Africans are still internally displaced, while a similar number have fled the country in search of refuge.
In the last weeks, several fires have broken out in the area, probably related to the hot and dry weather typical of this season in the Central African Republic, which also helped to spark an accidental fire in MSF’s facilities in Batangafo in January.
MSF has been working in the Central African Republic since 1997, and currently has more than 300 international staff and over 2,000 locally hired staff in the country. During 2014 MSF doubled its level of medical care in response to the crisis, with the number of projects currently in 17. MSF has also carried out six interventions for Central African refugees in neighbouring Chad, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In Batangafo, MSF manages the general hospital (150 beds) and supports five health centres located in the outskirts of the town. In 2015, nearly 75,000 consultations were conducted and 7,300 patients were admitted to the hospital. In the displacement camp, MSF has performed several healthcare activities, such as a measles and pneumococcal vaccination for over 12,000 children.