The United Nations has voiced “extreme concern” that recent violence in the Central African Republic (CAR) will cause a sharp increase in children suffering severe malnutrition, putting an already vulnerable population at further risk.
Before violence erupted earlier this month in the capital, Bangui, almost 1,000 children were being treated for severe acute malnutrition there. Now, only eight out of 15 nutrition centres in the city are operating, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
“Roughly half of the children have now resumed treatment, which in itself is remarkable, considering the current situation, with children and families scattered in more than 40 displacement sites,” said UNICEF nutrition specialist Bonaventure Muhimfura.
“But, we have to do more. It is crucial to re-open the remaining nutrition centres as soon as possible to save children’s lives.”
While over 400 children have now resumed treatment for severe acute malnutrition, UNICEF expects a significant rise in the number of admissions to nutrition centres in the coming weeks.
The impoverished country has been thrown into turmoil since mainly Muslim Séléka rebels launched attacks a year ago and forced President François Bozizé to flee in March. A transitional government has since been entrusted with restoring peace and paving the way for democratic elections. The mainly Christian anti-Balaka movement has taken up arms and inter-communal clashes erupted in Bangui earlier this month.
Violence is continuing in the capital, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in CAR (BINUCA), Babacar Gaye, told UN Radio today.
“We have just spent what we could call a dramatic Christmas with an enormous amount of violence in the city. Violence first of all against Security Council mandated soldiers, violence between communities and violence between armed elements from the two factions… And this unfortunately has led to an enormous loss of life and suffering.”
He added that the UN-mandated International Support Mission, an African Union (AU) peacekeeping force known by its French acronym MISCA, assisted by French troops, are trying to stabilize the situation in the capital.
The recent violence has displaced some 639,000 inside the country, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which noted that this includes more than 210,000 spread across 40 sites in Bangui.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has said that about 1.3 million people – more than 40 per cent of the country’s rural population – now need urgent assistance. Crop production has decreased sharply due to conflict, and food insecurity will have a serious impact on the nutrition status of children and women, the agency noted.
So far in December, the World Food Programme (WFP) and its partners have distributed nearly 500 tons of food to more than 118,000 people in Bangui. The agency is scaling up its emergency response to provide more than 1 million people with life-saving food support over the next six months.