BOUAR, Central African Republic -- When WFP and other humanitarian agencies returned to Bouar in October, residents welcomed them with applause, songs and traditional dances.
For these men, women and children, the return of the United Nations’ food agency to reopen its office meant the world had not forgotten their plight.
“We are very happy to have you (humanitarian actors) here in Bouar. The people here have suffered a lot from food shortages,” said Ali Haoudou Moumini, the mayor of Bouar, which lies 450 km west of the capital Bangui.
“We hope WFP will continue to help us, and especially the youth, to reconstruct roads and resume agricultural activities through its food-for-work programme,” he added.
Up to 500,000 people need immediate food assistance across CAR and this figure is likely to increase because the planting season has been disrupted by conflict and displacement. As it scales up its operations, WFP is reopening offices in the northeast and west, and using mobile teams to reach people in areas that remain insecure.
On the ground
The WFP office in Bouar is one of four offices that were temporarily shut in March because of fighting across the country. Government ministers, officials from other UN agencies and WFP’s partners were among those who turned up on 22 October for the reopening ceremony. On the same day, food rations were distributed to vulnerable farmers in the village of Bor, 18 km away.
After fresh conflict erupted in March, many people fled to Bouar to escape fighting in surrounding rural areas. Demand for food shot up but supply has remained low because farmers have been forced to leave their farms, and also because access to tools and inputs has been disrupted. Many farmers missed the first planting season, which started in April/May.
WFP resumed food distributions in Bouar in August to make sure that farmers kept their seeds for planting (see photo left) and did not adopt negative coping strategies, such as selling precious tools or seeds to stave off hunger.
In partnership with Mercy Corps and the government food security programme, PREVES, WFP is distributing seed protection food rations to 18,330 people in four areas, including Bouar, for three months.
The re-opening of WFP’s Bouar office, which will serve as a common office for other UN agencies and NGO partners, will ensure effective coordination of humanitarian interventions, and bring those delivering assistance closer to the people who need it most.
A critical time
Aristide Sokami, CAR’s minister of territorial administration, decentralization and regionalization, cut the ribbon on the office during the ceremony.
“We are very sensitive to what the UN system does, has done and will be doing in our country,” Sokambi said. “I would like WFP to continue food distributions in this area but this should only be a complementary assistance. I hope that the Prefet (senior local government official) of Bouar can quickly lead the population back to work so that they can provide and ensure security for themselves,” he added.
The reopening of the Bouar office shows that UN agencies are determined to support the government in providing assistance to vulnerable people in this time of acute crisis.
Across CAR, WFP is scaling up its operations, despite the insecurity fuelling hunger by forcing people to leave their homes and farms. WFP provides food assistance to displaced families, refugees, pregnant women and nursing mothers, malnourished children and vulnerable farmers in areas that have been hit by conflict.
Story by Djaounsede Pardon, WFP Central African Republic.