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Central African Republic On Brink Of Catastrophe

A little girl in Bangui holds a packet of a nutritious food supplement - one of the products WFP is distributing as part of efforts to curb malnutrition.

(Copyright: WFP/Melissa Chemam)

The Central African Republic is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe as violence forces more and more people to flee their homes and the national economy edges towards collapse. With local food systems breaking down, WFP and its partners are seeing cases of malnutrition multiply.

BANGUI --- Just a few months ago there were only 30 malnourished children admitted at Bangui’s Paediatric hospital. Now you can find up to 150 -- so many that tents have been erected in the courtyard to handle the overflow.

"They just put up a fourth, and I am afraid we will need one or two more," explains one of the hospital’s paediatricians, Dr. Esperance Touane. 

Even before conflict broke out, childhood malnutrition was a big problem in the Central Africa Republic. With a poor diet, consisting mainly of cassava, nearly 40 percent of children under five were stunted. Today, with the entire population of the capital Bangui affected by the violence and looting, levels of malnutrition are rising.

"The number of children who need to be hospitalized has tripled or even quadrupled. The situation is dramatic. And the worst is yet to come," says Susan Sheperd, a World Food Programme nutritionist working in Bangui.

At the moment, WFP and the humanitarian community don’t have the resources they need to prevent this “tragedy”, she added. Donate here

On the brink 

The rainy season has started, raising fears of a malaria epidemic. The disease is responsible for one-third of deaths in children under five year of age.  "People have already almost exhausted their food stocks and the lean season is only just beginning. We are on the brink of catastrophe," Sheperd says.

The health system in CAR, which already functioned poorly even before killings intensified in December, charges people for services and most of the patients and parents of sick children are unable to afford treatment.

WFP started distributions of nutritional products in several sites in Bangui as well as in the provinces in February. At the Bangui paediatric complex, WFP provides food to children with moderate acute malnutrition - and to the mothers of children who are in the hospital because of severe acute malnutrition.

"WFP assistance for mothers and carers is very important,” Dr, Touane stresses, referring to the fact that some of the mothers in the malnutrition tents also display obvious signs of malnutrition.

Inside the tents of the Paediatric complex, where the heat is intense, mothers are holding children who are weak and whose hair is discoloured by malnutrition. Having special nutritional food available for children with moderate acute malnutrition is crucial, says Touane.

"Just a few days or a week without proper treatment, and a child could develop by severe acute malnutrition. As a result, these children may never fully develop their physical and cognitive capacities,” he says.