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January 08, 2014

Food Aid Distributed at CAR's Bangui Airport

by Nick Long

International aid agencies are trying to distribute food aid and other assistance to an estimated 100,000 displaced people living in makeshift tents at the airport in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic. Most of the people camping next to the French army base at Bangui airport fled there in early December to escape an outbreak of deadly communal violence.
 
The bulk of this displaced population has received no food aid until now.
 
A spokesman for the UN refugee agency, Bernard Ntwari, said that distributing aid at this densely populated camp has been difficult.
 
He said the distribution of food had to be suspended here several times because of a lack of security, but now, with collaboration from the displaced people’s leaders, they have been able to clear a site for the operation.
 
The distribution of food and other essentials, such as buckets for water and waterproof mats, was restarted Tuesday and is due to last for 10 days.
 
An experienced aid worker told VOA he had never seen a camp where people were packed together so tightly, a sign of how desperate they are to get close to the French army’s protection.
 
The aid agencies are urgently seeking an alternative site for some of the displaced to avoid health risks from overcrowding.
 
Since last year, the World Food Program has been distributing food in three areas of the Central African Republic where many people have fled violence: Bangui and the towns of Bossangoa and Bouar, areas where ex-president Francois Bozize, who lost power in a coup last March, still commands strong support.
 
However, there are many other parts of the country where people have fled their homes. The U.N. refugee agency has said there could be nearly 1 million displaced people in the C.A.R.
 
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Ingela Kristiansson, who reports on the distributions for the World Food Program, said getting access to some of the displaced is a challenge.
 
“It’s a difficulty everywhere in the Central African Republic. I would say even in Bangui access is also difficult, but we always work with communities and community leaders to be able to access areas that are difficult or dangerous,” said Kristiansson.
 
The agencies aim to distribute 10 days' worth of cereals, pulses (lentils) and cooking oil to the displaced families at the airport.
 
People at the camp told VOA they cannot go home because killings are continuing in their neighborhoods.