Children at edge of survival, says UNICEF

At least 16 percent of children under five in three southern provinces of the Central African Republic (CAR) are acutely malnourished while 6.6 percent suffer severe acute malnutrition, the UN Children's Fund says.

The malnutrition levels, which are above the emergency thresholds of 2 percent for severe acute malnutrition (SAM) and 15 percent for global acute malnutrition (GAM), were found in Mambéré Kadei, Sangha Mbaéré and Lobaye provinces.

"In both the conflict-affected north and the more stable south, almost 700,000 children under five are living below acceptable standards," said Jeremy Hopkins, acting UNICEF representative in CAR. "Many are moving toward the outer edge of survival."

CAR is ranked 178 out of 179 on the UN Human Development Index. One in five children dies before the age of five and fewer than half complete primary school. Only 31 percent of the population have access to adequate sanitation.

"The situation of children in the south is of particular concern, due to the rapidly deteriorating nutritional status in tandem with an increasingly bleak funding outlook," Hopkins said.

According to UNICEF, some 16,710 children in the three areas surveyed were at risk. Nationally, more than one in 10 children aged six to 59 months suffer GAM while 2.3 percent suffer SAM.

UNICEF appealed for US$1.5 million for lifesaving therapeutic foods, drugs and other supplies.

"We need to ensure that all malnourished children are provided with the necessary nutritious supplements, which will restore their nutritional status to normal," Hopkins told IRIN. "Those children who are severely acutely malnourished are in urgent need of this attention to prevent them from dying.

"The chances of [severely acutely malnourished] children dying are increased by nine times due to their poor nutritional status," he added. 

"Currently, we have the minimum in place to respond to these identified pockets of increased malnutrition," he said.

The ongoing conflict and insecurity in north and northeast CAR has increased vulnerability. Lasting security has remained elusive more or less since independence in 1960, with attacks by bandits and other armed rebels common, despite the signing of several peace accords.

In June, more than 600 homes were burned and 3,700 people displaced following ethnic violence in Birao, about 1,200km east of Bangui, the capital. The area is effectively cut off during the rainy season (May-October) due to impassable road conditions, limiting humanitarian access.