Coronavirus is not yet an epidemic in RCA, but its effects are already being felt among the population

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Distribution of assistance to displaced persons in RCA respecting the measures of social distancing due to the coronavirus.

The UN asks for more funds to meet the humanitarian needs that were already in the country and this new emergency

In the Central African Republic (RCA), the coronavirus has not yet become an epidemic, since at the moment there are less than a hundred cases, but it is already making itself felt in the day-to-day life of the population, which still suffers the consequences of six years of conflict and which largely depends on humanitarian assistance for its survival. The country is not prepared for this pandemic, which is why the UN is asking for more funds to help Central Africans.

Even before the coronavirus, in this country in the heart of Africa there were 2.6 million people in need of humanitarian assistance – of some 4.5 million inhabitants -, 1.6 million with serious problems in guaranteeing their food and 700,000 displaced as a result of the violence in which RCA has been immersed since the end of 2013, despite the peace agreement signed in February 2019 between the Government and fourteen of the main armed groups.

“For now we do not have to face an epidemic but what we are seeing is already an impact on the daily life of the population,” stresses the UN humanitarian coordinator at RCA, Denise Brown. “Immediately there was a rise in prices for imported food arriving through Cameroon and now we are also seeing it in those produced locally, as well as a rise in transport costs due to the restrictions in force,” he explains in an interview with Europa Press.

But, unfortunately, “people are not receiving extra money” to be able to face this extra cost in food or transportation, so their lives, “already difficult, are being affected”. For now, however, the Central African Government has not imposed a confinement like the one in force in many countries around the world, something that, Brown points out, would be complicated here given that the population depends mainly on the informal economy and lives the day. a day.

Another consequence that is already being perceived is an increase in sexual and domestic violence. Earlier this week, the spokesperson for the UN Mission in RCA (MINUSCA), Vladimir Monteiro, reported a 24 percent increase in cases of gender-based violence, particularly domestic violence and rape.

Thus, between February and April, beatings and injuries have increased by 45 percent, while rape cases have increased by 2 percent, especially among minors, according to the spokesperson.

In the past week, coronavirus cases have increased rapidly, compared to how they have been since the first was confirmed. According to the latest balance offered by the Ministry of Health, this Thursday 14 new cases were confirmed – 12 of them imported -, so there are already 64 those accounted for in the country, which has not yet registered any fatality.

A HEALTH SYSTEM WEAKENED BY THE CONFLICT

Although as Denise Brown acknowledges, “no country was prepared for this pandemic”, in the case of RCA, six years of conflict in an already poor country have left a health system that is not ready to face a health emergency in this country. openwork, with only three respirators for the entire country. “There are no necessary protective equipment, such as masks or gloves, but fortunately they already have tests,” he stresses.

Unlike in other countries hit by the coronavirus, in RCA, both the UN and humanitarian organizations “are in the middle” of the response since the Ministry of Health cannot face it alone. “We are fully committed,” he says, “but the biggest problems are the funds.” For now, he stresses, of the slightly more than $ 400 million requested for the humanitarian response in 2020, “we only have 23 percent” while in 2019, 70 percent of the funds were received.

“We need the world to wake up and pay attention to the countries in conflict that were already suffering and those that were maintaining humanitarian assistance and that now face a new threat,” Brown defends. “Please do not forget countries like RCA because otherwise we will not succeed,” he warns.

The humanitarian coordinator acknowledges that the worst scenario she sees “is a widespread contagion in Bangui and later in the displaced settlements,” where people live in inadequate and overcrowded conditions. “That is the nightmare that keeps me awake at night,” he underlines and adds: “As humanitarian we always prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”

For now, UN and NGO personnel are still on the ground carrying out their assistance activities, although some movements have been avoided since, “since the virus seems to be concentrated in Bangui, we are being very careful not to take it outside the capital”.

POLITICAL TENSIONS AND VIOLENCE

The pandemic has reached RCA at a delicate moment also from a political point of view. Despite the fact that the peace agreement largely reduced the level of violence, in recent months the outbreaks have been repeated in different parts of the country, the last one in Ndélé this week. A clash between rival armed groups resulted in 25 deaths, including 21 civilians.

“At the moment, MINUSCA has to face two major crises, the one related to the coronavirus but also the prevailing insecurity environment in the country and the maintenance of the peace agreement,” says Brown, who underlines that for now “the Peace remains in force “despite the fact that last weekend some of the main armed groups announced their departure from the government and criticized the government’s management.

“This is a new situation and this virus does not respect borders or socio-economic status, culture or religion, so people have to unite in the fight, put their differences aside,” claims Brown, who trusts that this will finally be the case. that they prevail “because the population of this country has suffered a lot and for a long time.”

On the other hand, presidential elections are scheduled for December 27 in which the president, Faustin Archange Touadéra, will seek reelection. Due to the coronavirus, there has been speculation that the country is in need of postponing the elections and a proposal has even been presented in the Assembly to carry out a constitutional reform that allows, if necessary, that Touadéra can continue in the office when his term ends if the elections have not been held.

In this sense, Brown, who is in charge of the UN for the organization of the elections, assures that “for now there is no reason to think that the planned timetable will not be respected.” “The country has to walk towards elections and it needs credible elections,” he maintains, stressing that what Central Africans need is stability. “We will do everything we can to ensure that those elections are held on time and are transparent,” he stresses.

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