In Conflict-Torn CAR, One Father Tells Of His Struggle To Save His Son

Walter Samba, his wife and two-year-old son, after they arrived in the capital Bangui. Copyright: WFP/Djaounsede Pardon

More than a million people in the Central African Republic (CAR) risk going hungry after months of conflict. Since January, the World Food Programme and its partners have been providing food assistance to 300,000 people across the country. Tens of thousands of people have fled their homes, hiding out in the bush for fear armed groups will attack them. Here is one man's story.

BOSSANGOA DISTRICT - Walter Samba remembers the exact moment his world fell apart: it was just past noon on a September day and he was on holiday with his family in Gbakaba village, in the west of the Central African Republic.

That was when the armed men arrived.

“They started shooting and setting the houses on fire. We had no choice but to run into the bush. Some people in the village were killed,” said Samba, who fled to the bush with his wife and two-year-old son.

They remained in hiding for nearly two months, sleeping under trees or in makeshift shelters that offered little protection from the mosquitos, rain and cold. Sometimes, the adults would emerge from the bush, in groups of two or three, to seek food in their abandoned villages.

Samba, who described himself as a student in his 20s, knew he could not remain in hiding forever. His son was getting weaker. 

Praying for Wheels

Samba’s story is just one among tens of thousands of tales of displacement, fear and need in the Central African Republic. More than 395,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in recent months, losing access to their fields, shops, businesses, education and health care services.

Many are still hiding in the bush for fear of attacks by armed groups from all sides. But for Samba, staying was not an option.

His son had skin ailments and was losing weight because of the scarcity of food. Samba and his wife decided to take the child to hospital in the capital Bangui, 265 kilometers away. But they couldn’t get there without a car; for two weeks, as they spent the daylight hours waiting by the side of the road in Gbakaba, they did not see a single vehicle.

Because of the conflict, few commercial transporters dare to run the gauntlet of armed groups who prey on villages, looting farms and killing civilians. But then on November 6, a UN mission arrived to assess the security situation in Gbakaba.

“Every morning, we carry the child to the village. We hide around and wait and pray for a vehicle to pass by. It’s really tough!” Samba told the visitors. The UN team arranged for Samba and his family to be taken by car to Bangui for treatment.

As their car drove into the capital city, Samba whispered: “Something needs to be done so quickly to end the violence in our village. We cannot continue living in the bush like that.”

Since January, the World Food Programme (WFP) and its partners have been providing emergency food assistance to some 40,000 displaced people who have taken refuge in relatively secure, accessible areas across CAR. WFP is also providing food assistance to refugees, malnourished women and children.

The needs are great: Around 1.1 million people cannot meet their daily food needs and risk going hungry. A recent study, conducted by the UN, NGOs and the government of CAR, warned that the situation could worsen because of poor harvests and a drastic slowdown in economic activity.