“Never before has the UN seen a town in CAR where 70 per cent of houses have been torched,” UN country humanitarian coordinator Toby Lanzer said after leading the first mission to Birao yesterday following the fighting which resumed on 3 March. “The impact of this on people’s lives cannot be exaggerated.” The area on the border of Sudan’s conflict-torn Darfur region has suffered from a spill-over of the violence there as well as from fighting between the Government and armed opposition militias that has uprooted over 200,000 people in recent months, about 50,000 of whom have sought refuge in neighbouring Chad, amid reports of summary executions, ethnic violence and burning of villages. Prior to this month’s fighting, some 14,000 people lived in Birao, but following yesterday’s visit, the UN now estimates that no more than 600 people remain, the rest having fled the violence and believed to be living in the bush.In addition to the burning of houses, which makes the population’s return virtually impossible before the start of the rainy season in May, the team also noted that the town’s schools and hospital had been destroyed or looted. Priorities for humanitarian aid include shelter, supplies and psycho-social support. “This alarming news underscores the importance of my mission, which is intended to highlight the dire situation in the north of the Central African Republic, as well as the gaps in our ability to provide an adequate response due to both a shortage of resources and of humanitarian actors on the ground,” said UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes who is on a two-week mission to Sudan, Chad and the CAR. The number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in various parts of the CAR tripled in 2006. As many as 280,000 are now displaced, including 20,000 who have sought refuge in Cameroon, 50,000 in Chad, and an estimated 212,000 IDPs. Overall, some 1 million people, a quarter of the total population, are estimated to be affected by widespread insecurity throughout the north. Decades of recurrent armed conflict, political instability and poor governance have devastated the lives of the 4.2 million people of the CAR, the seventh least developed country on earth, according to the UN Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index.Social indicators have been declining steadily for two decades, with 2003 estimates putting under-five child mortality at more than 20 per cent. Basic infrastructure and social services, such as health and education, are nearly nonexistent outside the capital of Bangui. In 2007, the UN is appealing for $54.5 million for urgently-needed aid. To date, just under $8 million has been received, or 15 per cent of requirements. In 2006, only 60 per cent of total needs was covered. 21 March 2007Nearly the 14,000 inhabitants have fled the burned-out wreck of the main town in north-eastern Central African Republic (CAR) since this month’s resumption of fighting between Government and rebel forces, United Nations officials reported today.