Bangui/Barcelona – Some 10,500 people in northern Central African Republic (CAR) have received emergency food supplies from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
Since 22 December 2016, teams have distributed nearly 100 tonnes of food in seven locations where displaced people are sheltering in the areas of Kabo, Gbazara and Moyenne Sido. Most fled their homes during the violence that engulfed the country two years ago, and have been unable to return since due to continuing insecurity.
MSF decided to carry out the food distribution, which is not a regular activity for its medical teams, as a preventive action after it became apparent that the displaced people were receiving insufficient rations.
The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) recently raised the alarm on the lack of funding for CAR, which has forced it to cut food assistance by almost half.
"We saw that the situation for many of the displaced people was very fragile," says Maria Simon, coordinator of MSF's projects in CAR. "Food distributions are not something that we do as part of our regular activities. But after recent fighting in Kaga Bandoro and Bambari, other organisations were forced to divert resources to newly displaced people there, which prompted us to act."
The WFP had planned to provide assistance to 700,000 people in CAR in the coming year, before a funding shortfall forced it to halve the quantity of rations each person receives, and to limit its target to just 400,000 people.
In response, the UN's humanitarian coordinator agreed to release US$1 million of emergency financial assistance to WFP for CAR, but this will still not cover people's current needs.
An estimated two million people – or 40 per cent of the population of CAR – are in need of food assistance.
Each of the 2,000 households to whom MSF distributed food received 36kg of rice and 5kg of beans, as well as oil, salt and sugar. At the same time, MSF's medical teams carried out 'preventive' activities to protect people's health, including vaccinating almost 3,000 children under 15 against common childhood diseases. Teams also checked their nutritional status, tested them for malaria, carried out deworming and gave them vitamin A supplements. Pregnant women were also vaccinated and given iron and folic acid supplements.
"These are people whose coping mechanisms were exhausted long ago and whose situation is getting worse," says Maria Simon. "We are witnessing suffering caused by a humanitarian crisis and a conflict that has not abated. Much more needs to be done now by international donors, agencies and non-governmental organisations working in a country that has already had more than its share of suffering and neglect."
MSF has been working in CAR since 1996 and currently employs more than 2,400 Central African staff and 230 international staff in the country. Since 2013, MSF has doubled its level of medical support in response to the crisis. At present, there are around 20 MSF projects in the country, and medical teams provide free healthcare that includes paediatric care, routine vaccinations, maternal healthcare and surgery, as well as treatment for diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis.