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Child malnutrition escalates as donors turn their backs on Central African Republic - agencies

Source: Fri, 28 Jun 2013 10:53 GMT
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A soldier from the Seleka rebel alliance stands guard as the Central African Republic's new President Michel Djotodia (not pictured) attends Friday prayers at the central mosque in Bangui March 29 2013. REUTERS/Alain Amontchi
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NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Sickness and death rates in the anarchic Central African Republic (CAR), which are already triple the emergency threshold, are likely to soar with the arrival of the rains, nine humanitarian agencies said on Friday, appealing for $80 million in aid.

Despite widespread hunger and the rebels’ suspension of health services, the world has largely turned its back on the tiny nation, the agencies said. CAR remains deeply unstable following a coup in March, the latest of many military interventions and mutinies.

“What we are finding in most places are [child] malnutrition and mortality rates that are anywhere up to three times what we consider to be the emergency threshold,” Mike Penrose, humanitarian director at Save the Children, one of nine agencies launching the appeal, told Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“The donor contributions are just not there. Central African Republic is a forgotten country.”

The World Health Organisation’s emergency threshold for acute malnutrition – the level that should trigger a humanitarian response – is when 15 percent of children under five are critically malnourished. The emergency threshold for mortality is one death a day for every 10,000 people and two deaths a day for every 10,000 under-fives.

WORST CRISIS EVER

Before the escalation of the conflict in December, CAR already had the third highest infant mortality rate in the world.

“The current humanitarian crisis is the worst the country has seen,” Dieudonne Nzapalainga, the archbishop of CAR capital Bangui, said in the statement.

The entire population of 4.6 million people is in need of aid because the limited services that existed before the rebel takeover have now been suspended, the statement said.

“It would be akin to the entire health service in the UK or in France being withdrawn in one go,” added Penrose.

In March, the Seleka rebel alliance seized Bangui, ending a decade of rule by President Francois Bozize, saying he had not upheld his side of a January 2013 peace deal.

Insecurity is rife throughout the country. The government has had little presence or control beyond the capital for many years with residents living in fear of attack by armed groups and criminal gangs.

On Thursday, Human Rights Watch said Seleka fighters were burning villages and shooting civilians at random to quell resistance and to pillage. Entire villages have fled into the bush, with dozens of children and elderly people dying there.

One interviewee told HRW: “We sleep in the forest like animals.”

INCREASE IN DEATHS

Over the last six months, some 200,000 people have been displaced and are largely without food, shelter or medical care, the nine agencies said.

Young children are most vulnerable.

“With so many people displaced or hiding in the bush … we are seeing an increase in illness and deaths of children from malaria and diarrhoea,” Pierre Signe, the chief of child survival and development in the CAR for the United Nations children’s fund said on its website.

“The peak season for malaria is coming up, but there is a widespread shortage of anti-malaria drugs.”

CAR’s biggest donor, the European Union, suspended its $200 million aid programme in December, warning it would not resume until the rule of law was re-established.

“We need a politically sound system … We can’t deliver humanitarian aid," EU development aid chief Andris Piebalgs told Reuters in April.

There is no regular United Nations presence outside the capital Bangui. Rebels and bandits have ransacked aid warehouses and clinics, forcing aid workers to flee.

Penrose said that while security is “variable”, the agencies had the capacity to do a lot more if money was made available.

In a recent report the International Crisis Group (ICG) called on international partners to replace their “wait-and-see” policy with more robust engagement to support the transition to democracy.

Seleka leader Michel Djotodia is due to hold elections next year following an agreement negotiated by regional leaders.

There are fears that the forgotten crisis in CAR could destabilise the entire region as it borders six other fragile states, such as Chad, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which would struggle to manage an inflow of refugees.

 

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