BANGUI, Central African Republic — This past May and June, 800,000 people received safe water in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, thanks to the efforts of UNICEF and the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid & Civil Protection Department. With the installation of a new pump and increased maintenance of existing pumps at the national water company, water production increased by almost 20 percent in late May. In the following weeks, Bangui will see an extra 4.8 million liters of water produced daily.
UNICEF works to maintain the water supply in Bangui, Bouar and Bossangoa by repairing rural water points in surrounding areas. Before the CAR conflict between Seleka and anti-Seleka groups began almost two years ago, only 67 percent of Bangui residents had access to safe drinking water. Since then, violence has made the situation even worse.
Across the globe, the conflict in CAR is toted as a religious war, but it is more complex than that. The Seleka, a coalition of armed groups marginalized by Former President Francois Bozize’s government, took power by force in March 2013 and unseated Bozize. New Seleka President Michel Djotodia was from Vakaga, a region in northern CAR, and his supporters were mainly from the north, neighboring Sudan or Chad. They had little connection or understanding with the country’s south.
The majority of Seleka is Muslim.
The new Seleka government treated any opposition with violence, and this violence has become associated with Muslims, even though not all Seleka members are Muslim and not all Muslims support Seleka. Due to this misunderstanding, anti-balaka groups, made up of mostly Christians, rose up and intercommunal tensions flared across the country.
When Seleka was forced out of power this past January, anti-balaka groups grew bolder and more violent, targeting Muslims throughout CAR. Even though both sides are diverse, Seleka views anti-balaka groups as Christian, and anti-balaka groups view Seleka as Muslim. Hence, violence continues against religious individuals who never wanted to be involved in the conflict.
Violence by local anti-balaka militias caused most of the Muslim population to flee Bangui, and those that remained stay confined in a neighborhood called PK5. But, with the escalation of violence in recent months, the U.N. announced in March that it would be facilitating the evacuation of Muslims from the city entirely.
Leaders are afraid this will create permanent divisions and partition in CAR.
Conditions in Bangui
There are over 200,000 internally displaced people in Bangui, and over 650,000 displaced across the country. The current conditions of sites in Bangui where Muslims still live are difficult. They lack many things necessary for survival: latrines, water points, washing facilities and healthcare. A site next to the airport of Bangui hosts around 33,000 internally displaced people, but has no latrines.
To make matters worse, around 3,500 children have been recruited into the armed forces, splitting families apart.
Why Water is Important
Diarrhea causes 10 percent of all deaths in children under the age of five in the CAR. But, clean water helps stem the spread of diseases like diarrhea and cholera.
Diseases from unsafe water and a lack of basic sanitation kills more people each year than all forms of violence, and children are the most vulnerable to these diseases, according to Charity: Water.
Clean water ensures better health and well-being. With access to it, individuals can grow gardens and have food security. They can maintain self-sufficient households and become less vulnerable to conflict.
– Rachel Reed
Sources: UNICEF, LA Times, Insight on Conflict, Global Protection Cluster, Aljazeera, Charity Water