UN needs urgent funds to feed thousands fleeing terror in Central African Republic
With violence, fighting and rebel attacks spreading terror and uprooting scores of thousands of people in the north-western Central African Republic (CAR), the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today called for urgent international funding and a presence on the ground to support its emergency feeding operations.
“The world must wake up to the reality and extent of the suffering here in Central Africa,” WFP Country Director Jean-Charles Dei said, voicing particular concern for an estimated 150,000 people who are believed to be living in the bush, surviving on little more than the wild food that grows around them.
“It’s hard to comprehend just how traumatized and desperate many of those affected by the fighting have become. This is a very real humanitarian crisis in one of the most forgotten corners of the world,” he added, putting WFP needs at $11 million to ensure its operations in CAR for the next eight months. And that is assuming the situation does not deteriorate further.
The region has already been destabilized by fighting in neighbouring Chad and Sudan. The northwest is normally CAR’s breadbasket, but since being plunged into violence prices for staple foods such as manioc and cassava have risen sharply, causing hardship elsewhere across a country where most people live in appalling poverty.
A recent WFP mission into the region around Paoua witnessed many people running in fear at the sound of approaching vehicles. Several villages have been burnt to the ground, others deserted, the inhabitants having fled into the bush, living in the open sometimes several kilometres away. Diets are extremely poor, people are quickly falling ill with virtually no healthcare and many schools are closed or barely functioning, WFP said.
Conflict in north-western CAR has pushed nearly 50,000 people across the border into refugee camps in southern Chad in the past four years. But WFP is especially concerned about those that remain, living in terror in the Central African bush. Many have been unable to return to their villages for over a year.
Recent attacks targeted food supplies, just a few weeks after the harvest, leaving villagers with almost nothing on which to survive until they can harvest again, late in 2007.
Emergency distributions to 25,000 of the most vulnerable people around Paoua are currently suspended due to fighting.
“We appeal to the authorities to allow humanitarian organizations to continue our work without obstruction,” Mr. Dei said. “Our only concern is to provide life-saving assistance to those who need it most. If we cannot do this and circumstances deteriorate further, it will cost more in the long term – both in human and financial terms.”
The lack of non-governmental organization (NGO) partners with a presence in the northwest further hampers delivery of food aid, with only Médecins sans Frontières, the Italian NGO COOPI, and a number of Catholic missions providing assistance to the desperately needy. WFP said more humanitarian partners are urgently needed to assist.