DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A truck drivers’ strike in Cameroon over deteriorating security conditions in neighbouring Central African Republic is stopping humanitarian aid from reaching thousands of children, said the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Around 3,000 cartons of ready-to-use therapeutic food – used to treat malnutrition in children under five – are stuck in Cameroon, along with 24 metric tonnes of aluminium sulphite for water treatment, hygiene kits and cold storage for vaccines. All the aid is destined for CAR.
“The current situation in CAR is making it extremely difficult for UNICEF to get life-saving supplies to those in need,” said UNICEF Central African Republic Emergency Chief Robert McCarthy.
“Recent incidents at the Cameroon-CAR border, along with insecurity in parts of the capital, highlight the breakdown in law and order, which is hindering the delivery of humanitarian aid,” he added by email.
CAR has struggled to stabilise itself since the Seleka – a group of five rebel units – overthrew the government in March.
Last week, French President Francois Hollande called on the United Nations Security Council and the African Union to stop the “Somalisation” of the Central African Republic, warning it was at risk of going the same way as Somalia, which was plunged into two decades of civil war and lawlessness after the overthrow of president Siad Barre in 1991.
Hollande described the situation in CAR as "very grave”.
Children are amongst the first to suffer as conditions in CAR deteriorate. As of August, an estimated 240,000 people have been displaced, 50 percent of whom are children, according to the Humanitarian and Development Partnership Team for CAR.
More than 13,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) in the country, said UNICEF.
Other relief groups working in CAR are also impacted by the strike.
“UNICEF is the major provider of nutritional supplies in CAR, so these delays also affect other organisations working throughout the country. Some of our partners, who work on malnutrition, have had to stop their programmes,” said Ellen Van Der Velden, head of mission in CAR for Medecins Sans Frontieres.
The Cameroonian authorities temporarily shut down the border on August 21 after claiming Seleka rebels had shot a police officer. But despite the border reopening, truckers remain hesitant to about crossing into CAR.
Google’s satellite images show that the 600-kilometre-long road from the border town of Garoua Boulaï in East Cameroon to Bangui runs through thick, tropical rainforest with very few villages en route.
In the last two weeks, a couple of lorries have crossed the border into CAR, but they still have to negotiate checkpoints and poor road conditions before they reach the warehouse in the capital, said UNICEF's McCarthy.
The only other effective way of bringing aid into the landlocked country is by air, but that is 30 percent more expensive, he added.