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Food Aid Distribution Difficult in CAR

A Christian youth squats inside a burnt-out car in Bangui, Dec. 10, 2013.
A Christian youth squats inside a burnt-out car in Bangui, Dec. 10, 2013.
The World Food Program says it will scale-up its emergency operations in Central African Republic to provide aid to more than one-million people over the next six months. However, in the meantime, the U.N. agency is trying to cope with growing insecurity, especially in the capital, Bangui.

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Most of the fighting in CAR is between former Seleka rebels, who are Muslim, and Christian defense forces known as anti-Balaka.

WFP spokesman Peter Smerdon gave an overview of the agency’s humanitarian operations in the country.

“We are reaching out to the most vulnerable wherever we find them. We’ve distributed food in places to individual groups of people as small as 50. We’re distributing wherever we can – hospitals, orphanages, churches and mosques. And overall, since fighting intensified on December 5th, we’ve reached about 200,000 people in the Central African Republic. But it is a very difficult place to do humanitarian work. And there is a huge need because of this violence.”

While the World Food Program has reached about 200,000 people, Smerdon said many, many more need help.

“There are certainly hundreds of thousands of people who are displaced around the country and need assistance. The population in need of overall humanitarian assistance – rather than just food – has grown from 1.6 million in October to 2.4 million, which basically is 52 percent – more than half of the total population in the Central African Republic. So, we’re talking very large numbers, especially given the size of the country,” he said.

Right now, food distribution in Bangui is sporadic due to the violence.

Smerdon said, “We are doing some distributions in Bangui when we can. There are particular hot spots, especially the area just outside the airport at Bangui. And we’ve done distributions to some 40,000 people, who were there. But because of recurring security problems, we’ve had to suspend those for the time being. And we’re looking into how we can reach at least the last 14,000 of the 40,000, who we have not given food to. To provide food on a more regular basis.”

But Smerdon added distributing food outside the airport is dangerous work.

“Large mobs, including men armed with machetes, have rushed the food distributions in places – stolen a relatively small amount of food. That insecurity, both for our staff and for the people we’re trying to help, means we have to slow down the distributions near Bangui airport and focus on other areas while we work out what we can do for the people stuck there,” he said.

While some food aid has been flown in, the WFP already had some stocks in place in the country.

Outside the capital, in Bossangoa, Smerdon said the situation is relatively calm compared to the deteriorating conditions in the capital. The WFP has provided a month’s worth of food rations there for about 41,000 people. Almost all of them have been have been displaced by fighting.