By Anna Yukhananov
WASHINGTON, Jan 23 (Reuters) - The World Bank's board on Thursday approved $100 million for immediate food, healthcare and other needs in the Central African Republic, which is dealing with escalating inter-religious violence.
About half the funds were newly approved on Thursday, while another $47 million comes from existing projects for the former French colony where the money has not yet been used, partly because of escalating violence in the country.
The funds are a sign of the World Bank's new strategy of trying to be more nimble in fighting poverty in the world's most fragile and conflict-prone regions, which within five years will hold half the world's poorest people.
The poverty-fighting institution had in the past been wary of loaning to fragile states with shaky governments and murky institutions.
The project is also a sign of the bank's commitment to work more closely with organizations like the United Nations, despite their previous competitive relationship.
Greg Binkert, the World Bank's country director for the Central African Republic, said the bank also plans to work with the International Monetary Fund, the African Union and other groups in trying to help the country.
The World Bank's funds are part of nearly $500 million in humanitarian aid that donors announced earlier this week in Brussels, amid concern among aid officials at the deteriorating situation in the country.
Almost one million people, or a quarter of the population, have been displaced by fighting that began when gunmen from the Seleka rebels, most of them Muslims, seized power in a coup in March.
At least 16 people died in clashes just on Thursday, as the new interim president took office with a plea for militia to lay down their arms.
The European Union this week decided to send 500 troops to help stabilize the country, deploying its first major army operation in six years.
"With regard to the overall situation, ... it's really dramatic," Binkert, the country director for the Central African Republic, said in an interview.
"Personally I never thought it would deteriorate as much as it did," said Binkert, who had served as a country director in the region since 2011.
The bank plans to work with other donors to provide basic services, and also reestablish essential government operations, such as providing water and garbage collection.
"We are moving quickly to mobilize $100 million to help reestablish key government services and get people the life-saving supplies they need to survive this ordeal and resume their lives," Makhtar Diop, the World Bank's vice president for Africa, said in a statement.
In a few months, the bank will also use other funds available for the Central African Republic to help the government pay salaries to healthcare workers and teachers. They have not gotten a paycheck since the end of September, Binkert said.
The World Bank's strength is in not just providing basic services, but also linking them to the country's long-term development, he said.
For example, the bank plans to not just disburse food to displaced people, but also help re-start agricultural production before the rainy season in April.
The World Bank will also help the Central African Republic rebuild its systems for managing public finances, especially after all the government's computers and servers were stolen during the coup in March, Binkert said.
"If it's straight humanitarian aid, the World Bank should not so much be involved," he said. "The value-added is if we link it to economic issues." (Reporting by Anna Yukhananov; editing by Clive McKeef)