Amidst upheaval in the Central African Republic, John Ging, the deputy chief of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, summed up the UN’s deep fears for the country in one sentence. “This is a region with very little absorptive capacity,” he told the UN press corps today.

It is worth unpacking that sentence to understand just why humanitarians are watching the situation in CAR so closely. With the exception of Cameroon and Congo-Brazzaville, CAR is surrounded by deeply unstable countries with exceptionally weak governments.

Deeper still, this is a region beset by humanitarian crises. The Central African Republic is one of 17 countries for which the United Nations has launched a consolidated appeal for humanitarian assistance from donor countries. Humanitarian groups like the World Food Program and Unicef need $129 million to feed, shelter and provide medicine to populations displaced by conflict and hunger. So far, only $23 million has been pledged to these humanitarian programs.

Should this coup lead to further instability — and if the looting in Bangui is a harbinger of things to come — many more people will be in need of humanitarian assistance. The CAR and those surrounding countries, though, don’t have the capacity to handle this influx; and the humanitarian community did not even have the money to handle the situation before the coup. If things get worse, there is very little that can be done to help people with emergent needs.

This is what Ging meant by the regions poor “absorptive capacity.” And this is why the UN is so worried about the unfolding crisis in the CAR.

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