Extraordinary resilience in the Central African Republic


Camille Saulnier spent two years in the Central African Republic with Première Urgence Internationale. Upon her return to France, this former head of mission explains how Première Urgence Internationale has been so successful in the CAR.

Group photo of the Première Urgence Internationale's mission in Central African Republic

A successful start at Première Urgence Internationale

After six years in the field, primarily in Haiti and in African countries, I was delighted to come and work for Première Urgence Internationale in the Central African Republic. Despite the political instability in the CAR, it nonetheless demonstrates extraordinary resilience. Première Urgence Internationale is working on some excellent projects – I’m proud to have taken part. Although the government has been democratically elected, the CAR nonetheless remains a difficult environment for humanitarian workers – 70% of the country is controlled by armed groups.

This makes it difficult for NGOs to recruit staff, as the cycles of violence and political instability in the CAR don’t tend to attract international candidates. It means that Première Urgence Internationale makes use of its internal talent to carry out its missions. The NGO is giving younger employees a chance, supporting them and training them along the way. We’re seeing some fantastic people coming into our teams. We’re even managing to achieve this in the most isolated areas. It’s something I’m really proud of!

Access and acceptance – Daily challenges in the CAR

The constantly changing situation, as well as the CAR’s political instability, are issues that are central to our work. The increasing number of armed groups and their constant movements means that we regularly have new contacts to deal with in our traditional areas of intervention. As a result, we have to constantly explain who we are and what we are doing to ensure that we are accepted and can work safely among vulnerable populations. Every day, we have to convince others to respect humanitarian law.

Première Urgence Internationale is lucky to have a good level of acceptance in the field thanks to our long-standing presence in our three areas of intervention (Bangui, Berberati and Ndélé). This is particularly true in the north of the country, where we are the only NGO to carry out health projects in the entire Prefecture of Ndélé (82,000 people).

A joint logistics platform, the embodiment of an ambition shared by humanitarian workers

Despite the political instability in the CAR, Première Urgence Internationale is implementing a number of humanitarian response projects. We are working on health projects in Ndélé and Bangui. Première Urgence Internationale is also focusing on food security projects in Berberati and urban development in Bangui. In certain districts that have been destroyed, we are renovating homes. We are working to revitalise the area and bring the district together through community organisations. Our teams distribute hygiene kits and are installing sanitation facilities in the neighbourhood. We also help residents to return to their income-generating activities, which they abandoned following the waves of violence that shook the city from 2013 to 2015. The aim is to create a community dynamic – we call this the integrated approach.

In the CAR, logistics is a constant challenge. Just 2% of the road network is paved. In the past, each NGO spent an enormous amount of effort on their own logistics. Since 2014, we have been running a shared logistics platform project. It means we can achieve economies of scale, pool storage of humanitarian aid, and keep our supplies safe. We already have more than 20 partners involved in the project! It’s been an amazing success, and we hope to replicate it outside the capital.

What’s next? A holiday! Afterwards, I’ll be heading back into the field to help those who need it.

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