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Food Distribution Increases in CAR

Christian refugees create a home for themselves in makeshift shelters near the airport in Bangui, Central African Republic, Tuesday Jan. 28, 2014, as they try to escape from the deepening divisions between the country's Muslim minority and Christian major
The World Food Program says emergency food supplies are reaching more people in Central African Republic. However, the main supply road from Cameroon to CAR’s capital Bangui remains insecure. Armed groups frequently have targeted civilians based on their religion.

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Since mid-February, the World Food Program has bolstered its food stocks using airlifts. Those airlifts, though, are due to end this week. They were needed because truck convoys from Cameroon were too few – and carried too little – to replenish rapidly dwindling supplies.

WFP’s Alexis Masciarelli said progress is being made.

“We are increasing our presence across the country. In the last few weeks we’ve been distributing to new locations, especially in the north of the country, including rural areas. And that’s very important for us because it means that we go and bring assistance to a lot of people, who had fled the violence, who had gone to the bush, and for several weeks [had] only been eating roots and leaves. And now they try and go back to their homes and they realize that there’s been a lot of destruction. A lot of their houses have been looted, burned. So, we are there to help them to rebuild their lives,” he said.

The airlifts have brought in about 1,500 tons of rice from neighboring countries.

Truck drivers remain wary about making the 600 kilometer trip from Cameroon to Bangui. They want an armed escort.

“We’ve had trucks coming in the country thanks to escorts from the African force that is based here. Especially, the Rwandan contingent has been very helpful in helping trucks come through the road that was too insecure,” he said.

But Masciarelli said that food deliveries are not just about meeting immediate needs.

“Slowly, it’s coming in,” he said, “It’s not enough yet because what is important at the moment is not just to distribute food immediately for the people in need, but also to start prepositioning food stocks in locations all across the country before the rainy season starts next month, which will have made all the roads very difficult to pass.”

While the WFP is able to distribute in more places in CAR, there’s a problem at Bangui airport – where at one point about 100-thousand people had fled for safety.

“The conditions at the airport are still obviously quite difficult. We have had to suspend operations there because there’s been a lot of insecurity around the airport camp. So, we’ve been, in fact, the last week or so distributing in other areas of Bangui where there are also a lot of people displaced – around churches, around mosques, as well. We’ve been distributing over the last week to over 80,000 people outside the main airport camp,” he said.

The WFP spokesman said it’s difficult to determine how many people remain at the airport site. There’s a constant ebb and flow depending on the level of insecurity in the area – but the figure is in the thousands.