A food crisis is looming in the Central African Republic after nearly a year of violence, a UN humanitarian official warned on Sunday.
Funds pledged to help the crisis in January have not materialised, Abdou Dieng, the United Nations’ humanitarian coordinator said, with only one-fifth of the $500m promised at a donor conference in Brussels coming in to the country.
“It is now that the humanitarian crisis will start to deepen,” Dieng said.
“If we don’t pay attention, we will soon see people dying of hunger,” Dieng told the AFP news agency after visiting the market town of Bouar in the far west of the country the size of France.
“It is now that we must act. Seeds must be planted now, before the rainy season starts. What’s more, the rains will cut off some areas,” Dieng said.
The former French colony was thrown into chaos after rebels from the mainly Muslim Seleka group seized power in a March 2013 coup, after which some mounted a campaign of abuses, prompting the formation of Christian-dominated vigilante groups.
The unrest has compounded long-standing economic problems, the UN coordinator said, noting that many of the Muslims who fled had been truck drivers who took goods to market, and many others were shopkeepers who left behind stores that were looted and torched.
Thousands have been killed in the unrest and around a quarter of the country’s 4.6 million people have been displaced.
CAR’s interim President, Catherine Samba Panza, said on Sunday that the worst had been averted since she was appointed a month ago, replacing coup leader Michel Djotodia who failed to rein in his fighters after taking office.
“There was a fear of a general conflagration, of civil war… (but) things have improved enormously,” she told French radio.
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The country’s first woman leader has, however, reiterated a call for a 10,000-strong UN peacekeeping force in addition to the 8,000 foreign boots already on the ground.
Dieng, meanwhile, painted a picture of dysfunction: public services are vanishing as civil servants are not being paid; children are not attending school; and running water is becoming scarce.
“One of the main priorities for resolving the crisis is to pay the salaries…. Money must be injected into this country because right now everything is at a standstill,” Dieng said.
The UN official said that the funds were not materialising, despite the fact peacekeeping forces – comprising 6,000 African and 2,000 French troops – “understand the urgency” of the situation.