Cameroon : malnutrition levels above emergency threshold among refugees from Central African Republic

by World Food Programme | World Food Programme
Friday, 6 June 2014 12:23 GMT

* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Exhausted, hungry and often sick, tens of thousands of people have crossed the border from Central African Republic (CAR) into Cameroon. Young children are hit hardest by malnutrition. To respond to the dire humanitarian crisis, WFP is implementing an emergency operation to feed vulnerable families and fight malnutrition, which is proving fatal for people weakened by the cross-border journey.

Gbiti/Batouri—East Cameroon—They have walked for days, weeks, even months, carrying with them a small bundle of belongings or simply the clothes on their backs. "Two of my children died of exhaustion. We have nothing to eat, we drank water from ponds, no matter if it was clean or dirty. My two youngest, eight months and two years old, got sick and died before we even got to Cameroon," recounts Amadou, who walked for 41 days from the city of Boda in CAR.

Other refugees have similar stories to tell. All witnessed terrible violence, saw their loved ones perish, lost everything and are alive today thanks to humanitarian assistance provided by UN agencies and their partners.            

At Gbiti, one of the transit sites run by UNHCR on the border between Cameroon and CAR, approximately 13,000 people are waiting to be transferred to one of five camps in the country.

Hunger kills here. Three men wrap a bag containing the small body of a three-year old child that did not survive severe malnutrition. In each straw hut, protected from the rain by a tarpaulin, malnourished children fight to survive. At least 30 percent of children arriving in Gbiti suffer from acute malnutrition, according to data collected upon registration of new arrivals.

To fight malnutrition, WFP has started distributing specialized nutritious products for all children under five years of age, regardless of their nutritional state. WFP is also treating children suffering from moderate acute malnutrition. The most serious cases are treated by other humanitarian organizations and are sometimes transferred to the treatment center in Batouri.

Despite treatment, children are still dying in Batouri; during the month of May, 37 did not survive. Before the arrival of refugees, the nutrition center in Batouri had 12 beds. Today the center hosts more than 160 children in tents constructed and staffed by humanitarian organizations. WFP provides food to caregivers, mothers or relatives who remain with the children through their recovery.

More than 80,000 people have crossed the border between CAR and Cameroon since the violence began last December. While the flow of refugees has slowed, around 2,000 people still cross the border each week. WFP has started an emergency operation and plans to assist 100,000 people through December. To carry out this operation, WFP urgently needs USD 15 million.