The UN branch operating air services in the conflict-hit Central African Republic is running out of funds, jeopardising food and medical supplies for hundreds of thousands of people.
The Central African Republic (CAR), the world’s poorest country according to the World Bank, is facing a renewed crisis as a major international aid organisation that operates flights ferrying humanitarian assistance and workers there has run out of funds.
The UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) operates in more than two dozen cities and towns in conflict-hit CAR, which is almost entirely dependent on foreign assistance to feed and take care of its 4.5 million people.
Without outside help, the flight operations might come to a standstill by the end of the year.
Other international NGOs, which rely on UNHAS’s turboprop planes to run food and health programmes, have called for immediate action.
“That’s the only mode of transportation to reach nearly 80 percent of the territory in the Central African Republic. Around 70 percent of international NGOs, journalists and researchers rely on it,” Hajer Naili of Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) told TRT World.
Even though UNHAS needs only $1 million a month to keep the flights runnings, it faces a lack of funds and major donors’ apathy towards the CAR, even though six out of ten people have been made homeless in the country’s years-long conflict.
The UN peacekeeping mission in CAR, which plays a key role in protecting civilians, is awaiting the renewal of its mandate for a month with a deadline of December 15. However, the UN Security Council is yet to make a decision.
CAR, a former French colony, has been yearning for stability since gaining independence in 1960.
Five military coups, abundant mineral resources—which have become a curse—and the interference of countries ranging from Sudan to Russia, have turned it into a playground of conflicting interests.
The recent round of troubles started in 2013 when an armed militia called Seleka, made up of mostly Muslim fighters, overthrew the government of former president Francois Bozize, a military commander who had come to power in a coup.
Bozize’s rule was characterised by corruption and the suppression of the Muslim minority, which makes up 15 percent of the population. Thousands of Muslims fled to neighbouring Chad during his tenure, which also saw the emergence of a dozen resistance groups.
However, the Seleka coalition, itself accused of atrocities against Christians, wasn’t able to hold on to power for long due to infighting between various factions and an onslaught of a mainly Christian armed ’anti-Balaka’ movement.
That confrontation resulted in thousands of deaths, the rape of female civilians and left entire villages burned to ashes.
The country is now ruled by more than a dozen armed militias, which exert influence over vast parts of the country. Almost all of them are accused of committing human rights violations.
The authority of President Faustin Archange Touadera, a former academic and mathematician who came to power in 2016 following an election, extends to only the capital Bangui.
Over the years, multiple efforts have been made to bring the warring factions to the negotiating table without any success.
A proliferation of arms and guns-for-hire from neighboring Chad and Sudan have further fuelled the conflict. Shifting alliances over ethnic and sectarian conflicts is commonplace in the country.
The CAR's GDP is only $418 per capita, making it one of the world’s poorest countries, where planes bringing in aid supplies often land on dirt runways in the middle of towns.
Russia’s growing involvement in CAR and close ties with Touadera’s government has made peace even more elusive, experts say.
“On one hand we have African Union trying to organise a meeting between different armed groups and on the other Russia also trying to play the role of a mediator,” Guillaume de Brier of the International Peace Information Services told TRT World.
“I think it would be better if the peace efforts are left to African Union. The Europeans and other countries should not get involved.”
The conflict has taken its toll on the diamond trade, one of the CAR’s key exports. Diamond exports hit a peak of $62 million in 2012. In 2017, that figure had come down to just $6 million, according to Kimberley Process, which keeps a check on blood diamonds.
Actual exports could be much higher than official numbers as armed groups control vast parts of the country including its natural resources.
Russia, which has sent military trainers to CAR, is also seen vying for diamond mining concessions.
While there’s no evidence it is exploiting CAR’s diamond mines, Russia is the world’s largest diamond producer and could easily manage to sell smuggled precious stones, said de Brier.
CAR’s vast resources of diamonds, gold, tin and uranium haven’t translated into economic gains for the landlocked country.
“That’s because you need huge investments to exploit them on an industrial scale,” de Brier explained.