Near anarchy, Central African Republic is facing a food crisis
October 21, 2013 by Peter Biro
|Severely malnourished toddlers, like two-year-old Nathan, receive milk and peanut paste from IRC-trained nurses. Nathan's family had spent four months in hiding in the bush after armed rebels raided their village. Photo: Peter Biro/IRC|
The International Rescue Committee's Peter Biro reports from the Central African Republic, where political chaos and rampant violence threaten millions of people without making global headlines. The IRC has worked in the country — one of the world's poorest — since 2006, and currently provides health and sanitation services, assistance for victims of sexual violence, and training in job skills and small business development.
MBRÈS, Central African Republic — The rebels arrived at lunchtime. Landry Punamoundjou and his family were preparing food when soldiers entered their village of Ndiba shouting and firing automatic rifles in the air.
“We ran into the forest,” Punamoundjou said as he walked around the charred ruins of his former home. “They looted everything in the village and burnt down the houses.”
Punamoundjou is one of an estimated 390,000 people who have been displaced by rampant violence here since rebels seized power in March after launching an offensive against the government of President François Bozizé, who fled the country.
Since then the country has descended into near anarchy. Undisciplined fighters associated with the Seleka rebel government have raped and killed civilians, burned villages and looted property as the faction took control of the country’s provinces. Tens of thousands of displaced civilians have sought safety in the bush, where they live in makeshift huts made from tree branches and straw.
Rebel fighters have raped and killed civilians, burned villages and looted property as the Seleka faction took control of the country’s provinces. Photo: Peter Biro/IRC
Another estimated 60,000 people have fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo and other neighboring countries.
The Central African Republic has experienced decades of coups and civil war that have left it one of the poorest countries in the world.
According to the United Nations, the latest conflict has severely impacted the country’s population of 4.6 million. Some 1.6 million people are in dire and immediate need of food, water, health care and other humanitarian assistance.
Maclean Natugasha, the IRC’s field coordinator in Nana-Grébizi province, said the country is facing a severe food crisis.
“When the fighting erupted, people were forced to flee, leaving behind crops, seeds and farm implements,” she said.
|Landry Punamoundjou (far left) receives rice for his family. The IRC plans to distribute food to some 20,000 people across the country in coming weeks. Photo: Peter Biro/IRC|
The other day, Natugasha and her team traveled to the small rural town of Mbrès to distribute rice, beans, salt and oil to hundreds of people, including Landry Punamoundjou, who had walked there from his home village. The IRC plans to distribute food to some 20,000 people across the country in coming weeks.
While providing food to the hungry is the immediate need, the IRC also plans to distribute seeds and tools to farmers in an effort to restart food production.
“Once people have become more food secure we will help organize farmers into collectives that can link up with potential buyers of surplus food,” Natugasha said.
Other IRC teams are providing shelter to displaced people and rebuilding water systems and schools.
Four hours drive from Mbrès along a muddy, potholed track is Kaga Bandoro, a small market town with the region’s only hospital. Last year, advancing rebels ransacked the wards, stealing generators, mattresses, medicines—even steel bed frames.
Tens of thousands of displaced civilians have sought safety in the bush, where they live in makeshift huts made from tree branches and straw. Photo: Peter Biro/IRC
In one of the damaged wards, severely malnourished toddlers receive milk and peanut paste from IRC-trained nurses.
“The rebels stole all our cassava and rice,” explains Dieudonné Dounea, the father of two-year-old Nathan, who arrived in Kaga Bandoro near death from starvation.
“We fled into the bush for four months. We hardly had anything to eat and we drank dirty water from pools. This is when our son became sick.”
The children here are usually treated for about two weeks before they are sent back home, said Marie-José Dongognon, a nurse.
“Sometimes they come in too late,” she said. “A one-year-old boy died just this morning. The situation is very, very bad.”
Get updates from IRC aid workers and others who are responding to and reporting on the dire situation in the Central African Republic and other underreported humanitarian crises.