7 April 2014, Rome - The unprecedented crisis in the Central African Republic is devastating the economy and people's ability to secure basic necessities, two United Nations food agencies said in an assessment report this week.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) warned that the country needed a long and expensive humanitarian operation over at least the next 18 months to stem the growing toll, and pave the way to rebuild livelihoods.
The two UN agencies issued the report as they took action to help displaced and other conflict-affected families gain immediate access to food and cash, while also preparing for a crucial planting season, which will help families produce food and income for the long term.
The joint assessment reports that widespread conflict since December 2012 has caused the destruction of livelihoods, loss of food and cash crops, livestock and crucial productive assets across the country. As a result, about 1.6 million people directly affected by the crisis are in need of urgent food, more than double the level estimated just over a year ago, in February 2013. Also, as of late March, some 625 000 individuals were displaced due to conflict.
Since early 2013, the people of the Central African Republic have been facing serious challenges in accessing food due to reduced supplies, trade disruption, and loss of purchasing power. Unemployment is rampant in all sectors, both formal and informal, and civil servants have not been paid for several months.
There has been a drastic loss of dietary diversity, and a sharply reduced intake of animal proteins, which raises serious concerns for family nutrition and health, especially among children.
"The level of destitution among many of the families I have seen recently in the Central African Republic is shocking and yet, there is still hope to improve people's immediate and long-term prospects, if we can act on a broad enough scale to restore livelihoods and food security," said Dominique Burgeon, the Director of FAO's Emergency and Rehabilitation Division.
"First and foremost, we need to see violence stop. At the same time, we need to help save lives and rebuild livelihoods," said Arif Husain, Chief Economist at WFP. "Every passing day only makes emergency assistance more difficult and more expensive and leads to the loss of more innocent lives."The vital agricultural sector contracted by nearly 37 percent in 2013 and business people who managed most of the trade and transport activities have left. This, coupled with a shortage of adequate vehicles, is severely affecting internal commerce, the availability of food and the import-export market.
"Prospects for the 2014 cropping season, beginning from March/April, are grim given the level of insecurity and lack of agricultural inputs," the report said. Agriculture, the backbone of the economy providing some 57 percent of Gross Domestic Product, was the hardest-hit of all sectors.
The rainy season from this month poses a severe challenge to the already inadequate road network, threatening to make many places inaccessible by road and hindering pre-positioning of food stocks and agricultural inputs.
The report recommended that cash transfer programmes be considered in urban areas with relatively more secure food supply chains. Cash transfers could help revitalize community saving and loans to restart local economies. They could also be combined with in-kind food assistance.
The report said food assistance must include locally-preferred and available foods, such as cassava, rice and maize. Local purchase for delivery in the same area would also relieve pressure on logistics and strengthen liquidity, it added.
FAO has a two-pronged approach to improving food security in the Central African Republic. First, essential agricultural inputs such as seeds and tools will be provided to about 75 000 households in time for the planting period starting in April.
Also, a comprehensive plan aims to help over 400 farmer groups and women's associations recover their livelihoods and build resilience.
WFP is assisting 1.25 million women, children and men in the country. WFP provides food assistance to internally displaced people, nutrition support to malnourished children, pregnant women, nursing mothers and individuals with HIV/AIDS and emergency school meals for children.
As of March, only one-third of the funding needed by WFP was secured. As a result, vulnerable and displaced people were receiving half-rations with fewer types of food.
Funding is urgently required to provide sufficient life-saving assistance to growing numbers of people during the current rainy season and the lean season. This period, currently underway, is when food requirements are highest.