Central African Republic is about the same size as France, but with less than 700km of paved roads. You can imagine the access issues that poses to UNICEF and other humanitarian agencies trying to get emergency aid quickly to where it is most needed.
Just to give you an example. One-and-a-half weeks ago, a convoy from UNICEF headquarters in Bangui headed off to set up a new field office in the far east of the country – a town called Zemio over 1000km drive from the capital. The roads are in bad condition, and they are dangerous. Our drivers would take four days to get there overland, and require a military escort.
But delays with the escort left the drivers stranded along the way; and they will only arrived with all the supplies in Zemio on Friday – two weeks later.
This is what we’re up against.
There are tracts of Central African Republic where there is no humanitarian presence, because they are too dangerous or too remote. But these are exactly the places where UNICEF needs to be if we are to live up to our mission to help the most disadvantaged children: those who are hardest to reach.
In response to this challenge, UNICEF co-ordinates a Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM) to reach otherwise inaccessible areas in Central African Republic. Their aim is to respond within 15 days of being alerted about an outbreak of violence or displacement.
Going where nobody else can go
It works like this: rapid response teams carry out special assessments that measure families’ vulnerability in health, access to food, water, sanitation and availability of household items like buckets, sleeping mats and soap. The teams target their response based on the findings of these assessments; and quickly organize distributions, using supplies and funding they have received in advance.
After fighting in the northern town of Batanfago in August, three different rapid response teams quickly mobilized to carry out assessments in new displacement sites and distribute essentials like soap, jerry cans, sleeping mats, buckets and blankets to more than 6300 families in Batangafo and five nearby towns.
Next week, one of the rapid response teams will carry out distributions in two villages near Bambari, which has been a violent hotspot since June. They will provide emergency kits like the ones distributed in Batangafo, as well as build emergency latrines for about 1500 families who have recently been displaced after attacks on their villages.
The rapid response teams are the provider of ‘last resort’ for women and children living in remote parts of Central African Republic. And they build the base for longer-term assistance. The project just received $1.3 million from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department. This funding will help us to scale up our work in the hardest to reach parts of the country – and the children who would otherwise miss out.
The Rapid Response Mechanism co-ordinates NGO partners Action Against Hunger, ACTED, International Rescue Committee, PU-AMI and Solidarités International.
Madeleine Logan is a communications specialist who has been reporting from CAR since January this year.