Bangui violence threatens – but cannot stop our work

The capital city of Central African Republic – Bangui – has been on virtual lockdown for the past five days. Intercommunal violence has again flared up, with at least 10 people killed including three children.

Respect for humanitarian space has been compromised countless times since December 2012. We knew we would continue to be challenged, as hostile gangs targeted UN vehicles and convoys. But in this chaos, some of our UNICEF colleagues and NGO partners ventured out into streets blocked by barricades to continue their work.

UNICEF/2014/Frappier
©UNICEF/NYHQ2010-3063/PirozziThe UNICEF health team managed to save four tonnes of vaccines.
(c) UNICEF/2014/Frappier

This included our water and sanitation team who worked with partners Oxfam, Mercy Corps and local NGO ANEA to continue to truck water to families in displacement camps, which had swelled to accommodate more than 6,500 extra people in the past few days. After operations were temporarily suspended, they were able to provide safe water to families in seven displacement sites, with truck drivers negotiating with a dangerous mix of armed men, and frequent reports of shooting and unrest.

Our health team also managed to safely deliver from the Bangui Airport four tonnes of vaccines. For two days, these immunizations could not be transported to the refrigerated store after armed groups erected barricades on the main access road. We only had until Friday to refrigerate the vaccines, valued at more than $1 million and critical to routine immunization activities in the country.

On Friday morning, Deo from our health team, our security adviser John and one of our drivers Alexandre, went to the airport and loaded up a UNICEF truck with the vaccines, supported by UN Peacekeepers from Cameroon.

UNICEF/2014/Frappier
The vaccinations are crucial to keeping children healthy in CAR.
(c) UNICEF/2014/Frappier

They traveled on eerily silent streets usually bustling with markets and motorbikes. The vaccines are now safely in cold storage – enough doses to protect 60,000 children from pneumonia.

During these five chaotic days, our child protection partners have been tracking grave violations committed against children. Local NGO Children without Borders has confirmed the deaths of three children – including two young boys who were accused of spying , and violently murdered.

We have also recorded cases of children and pregnant women used at roadblocks and as human shields during ambushes; and of injured people unable to access treatment because of the violence. It is critical that such dangerous manipulations of children are investigated and reported. Without these records, perpetrators can act with impunity.

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The vaccines were collected just in time. (c) UNICEF/2014/Frappier

A volatile calm has returned to Bangui, and we must now increase our emergency response to families, especially the thousands of newly displaced.

Madeleine Logan is a communications specialist who has been reporting from Central African Republic since January. 

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