The executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) urges the international community to address the disaster in the Central African Republic (CAR) where hundreds of thousands have fled violence and instability to neighboring Cameroon, Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“It is a crisis situation,” says Ertharin Cousin of WFP, who recently returned from tours of the CAR and Cameroon. The WFP executive director says the influx of refugees is creating a regional crisis because of food shortages and lack of resources.
She calls the conditions in CAR a level-three humanitarian disaster, the most serious that the UN seeks to address, based on the large number of victims.
Cousin estimates more than 800,000 are internally displaced or have fled CAR as refugees. The WFP relief teams have provided food aid to about 300,000 in the last four months, but must now increase funding to feed at least a million needy, she says.
“And the most challenging issue is that we do not have the resources to support the purchase of commodities …” says Cousin.
To make matters worse the rains have started early, making distribution more difficult and more costly.
“In the Central African Republic where you have no all-weather roads, when the rains begin, it means that we can no longer distribute by road,” Cousin says. It requires us to distribute by air, which will even escalate the cost for the distribution of food to the population in need.”
During her recent visit, Cousin witnessed the alarming poor condition of the women and children who had survived the violence. Many were suffering from severe injuries from traumatic attacks.
“I sat with a woman who had her collar bone broken, who had open sores on her leg from a machete attack that she had been a victim of,” she says. “We saw children who had open sores and any number of other injuries that had been a part of either fleeing the violence, or being victims of violent attacks.” Children showed evidence of malnutrition.
The deteriorating situation in the CAR is spilling over into neighboring countries stretched to their limit in meeting refugee needs.
Cousin says the international community must step up to help CAR to end the violence and act before the rains exacerbate the precarious food situation.
She is excited to see that private and corporate donors are responding to her call for action through their campaign, where donors are encouraged to match the $1-million donation made by WFP ambassador Howard Buffett.
“We’ve started a campaign called “The Time is Now,” to encourage others to provide us with individual and corporate donor contributions to meet that match of a million dollars, and the response has been very positive so far.”