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July 10, 2013

Malaria, Malnutrition on the Rise in CAR

by Anne Look

Five French aid agencies working in the Central African Republic say the precarious security situation since the rebel takeover earlier this year is holding up donor funding for humanitarian relief.  The agencies say severe food shortages and a spike in malaria pose a threat to tens of thousands of displaced people.

In the seven months since the start of the Seleka rebellion in the CAR, aid agencies say the humanitarian situation, particularly in the rural areas, has gone from bad to worse.

Aid agency presence in the country is at an all-time low.  United Nations agencies withdrew to the capital, Bangui, in December for security reasons.The political situation remains very unstable.

Clement Cazaubon is the CAR Country Director for the Paris-based agency, Action Contre la Faim (Action Against Hunger) or ACF, one of five French non-governmental organizations (NGO) calling on the United Nations to redeploy outside the capital.

NGOs rely on the U.N. system for financing, operational support, and coordination of humanitarian activities in the field, Cazaubon said. The aid agencies have encouraged U.N. groups to redeploy to their offices in the country and to support the NGOs, some of which, he added, never left their areas of operation despite the immense difficulties that included looting and threats to their personnel.

ACF lost $250,000 worth of humanitarian supplies when two of its bases were attacked during the rebellion, Cazaubon said.

According to Human Rights Watch, rebels and other armed groups continue to attack civilians in rural areas. Insecurity has pushed more than 200,000 people in the CAR to flee their homes since December.  Fields have been abandoned, and grain stocks looted.

Many of the displaced are living without shelter in the forest.

Cazaubon said villagers who would normally get water from underground wells now only have access to water from swamps and other contaminated sources that can make them sick. Food options are limited to what they can find. He added the quantity and nutritional quality of what they are eating has been "drastically reduced" for months now, putting children at particular risk of malnutrition.

Access to medical care is also a concern.

Paris-based Doctors without Borders says its clinics have treated at least 60,000 cases of malaria this year.  

That represents a 30 to 40 percent increase compared to the same period last year and it does not bode well for the annual peak in malaria cases expected in July and August, said Isabelle Le Gann, a country mission director for the agency.  She said the trend is worrying because many of the doctors and staff from local health centers have fled and the supply of medicine to treat malaria has been largely cut off to areas outside the capital.  

To make matter worse, Doctors without Borders reports that aid agencies have received just 31 percent of the international funding requested in March to deal with the crisis.