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Central African Republic Suffers from International Neglect,  says UN - 2004-03-20

The United Nations says the Central African Republic is suffering from international neglect. It warns that the country's multiple political, social and economic problems could turn into a humanitarian crisis, without immediate emergency assistance.

The United Nations says the Central African Republic (CAR) suffers from lack of visibility on the international stage. It says the country has no civil conflict. Therefore, it does not command the same kind of international attention as its neighbors, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan.

But U.N. Special Humanitarian Adviser Ramiro Lopes da Silva says that does not lessen the magnitude of problems besetting people in the CAR. He says repeated coups have created great instability in the country, particularly in rural areas. He says people there are regularly subjected to looting and harassment by renegade groups.

Mr. da Silva says this persistent insecurity is one of the main barriers to the resumption of normal life, and economic and social development. He says the people are facing a health crisis.

"The Central African Republic is a country prone to epidemics," he said. "It is in the African meningitis belt. Malaria is the main cause of mortality in Central African Republic. You have 15 percent prevalence of HIV-AIDS. You have measles. You have cholera. You have everything. "

A recent U.N. survey shows that 84 percent of the 3.6 million people in the country live on less than $1 a day. Despite this extreme poverty, Mr. da Silva says, the CAR continues to be ignored, because it is not considered of strategic importance.

In November, the United Nations appealed for nearly $17 million to help two million of the country's most vulnerable people this year. Mr. da Silva says only one country, Sweden, responded, with a contribution of $700,000.

"If we want to avert a complex emergency, one of those that hit the screens of our TVs in a couple of months' time, we need to address first the security issue, and then we need to launch immediately a response on the health sector and with related help on nutrition," said Ramiro Lopes da Silva.

Mr. da Silva said just over $6 million is needed immediately. This money, he said, would allow aid agencies to carry out life-saving immunization campaigns for children, detect and respond to epidemics and stop peoples' nutritional status from further deteriorating.