BANGUI, Central African Republic- The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has recently stepped up a vaccination program in the conflicted Central African Republic (CAR), a nation that has been beset by recent religious violence between Christians and Muslims. Recent statistics show the warring factions are using up to 6,000 child soldiers to terrorize villagers and outsiders alike.
Situations like this breaking down in the CAR can potentially give rise to disease-ridden refugee camps. The Syrian civil war has seen the spread of polio and other illnesses in hastily constructed refugee camps, and much of the same worries exist in the CAR, a country that was ranked 180th out of 186 in the U.N. Human Development Index.
UNICEF is trying to preempt the issues that have developed in Syria by beginning this vaccination program. The first efforts have been centered around the capital city of Bangui, where about 100,000 refugees have gathered at the airport. According to UNICEF, three cases of measles have been reported near the airport, and worries are that “the elements are present for a potentially deadly outbreak of disease,” as a UNICEF spokesman said.
At this point, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has reported that up to 935,000 people have been displaced by the violence, including up to 210,000 children. Further statistics show about two-thirds of Bangui’s population of 734,350 have been affected by the violence. By any account, the violence has touched almost everyone in the Central African Republic and the situation has no end in sight, with President Michel Djotodia resigning January 10.
The vaccination program undertaken by UNICEF involves immunizations for polio and measles and programs for vitamin deficiencies that are believed to be a prevalent problem in the refugee camps. To administer the vaccination program, UNICEF is working with international groups like the World Health Organization and Doctors without Borders as well as the CAR’s Red Cross group.
While France has supplied peacekeeping troops in order to quell the violence, they have been ineffective so far, as only 1,600 troops have been sent to the region. The International Organization for Migrants (IOM) has began working with the UNHCR in what has been called “the largest evacuation effort we have seen since the war in Libya in 2011,” by the IOM chief of the mission. The UNHCR has estimated that the evacuation efforts could cost over 150 million.
The situation in the CAR has been highly unstable and dangerous to all involved for the past year. This nation shows the work that still must be done in Africa and across the world to fight poverty. A nation like the CAR that has consistently ranked near the bottom of development rankings, is always at risk for this sort of instability. This shows the importance of the fight against global poverty and the priority it should hold for the United States.
– Eric Gustafsson