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CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: WFP needs US $6.1 million for food aid

Nairobi, 12 March 2003 (IRIN) - The World Food Programme (WFP) needs US $6.1 million to distribute 8.2 million mt of food aid in war-torn Central African Republic (CAR), according to Christiane Berthiaume, the agency's spokeswoman in Geneva.

"We hope that today's appeal will be heard by some donors who will be interested in the fate of victims of this war, because, with this little amount, we can do a lot to alleviate their suffering," she told reporters on Tuesday.

A rebellion by supporters of the former army chief of staff, Francois Bozize, which erupted on 25 October 2002, had, she said, had a "devastating effect" on the CAR's poor and vulnerable, "who account for two-thirds of the country's population".

Estimates, she said, were that 66 percent of the population earned less than $1 dollar a day. Farming had stopped because of the fighting, she said, and if nothing was done health conditions would continue to deteriorate.

In 2002, she said, 8.6 percent of the country's children less than three months old were malnourished, 68 percent had vitamin A deficiency and 63 percent were iodine deficient. The HIV prevalence was now 14.5 percent.

Fighting had, she said, slit the country, with both government and rebels controlling territory. There were about 105,000 displaced people in government-controlled areas, she said, and perhaps 100,000 in rebel-held parts. But she noted that the real figure in the rebel areas was unknown. Another 26,000 people had fled north towards Chad.

The WFP, she added, was most worried about the 1.2 million people in the north, who, at a given moment, "found themselves under the control of opposing forces". Humanitarian agencies had been unable to access these areas since October 2002, she said. "If these people don't plant in April or May, they will simply have nothing to eat in the remaining year."

WFP had accessed some towns about 200 km from Bangui, the capital. In Sibut and Damara, she said, WFP had found that children had died of malaria, diarrhoea, respiratory infections and malnutrition.

"Women have given birth in the bush, because they had fled," she said. "Many had given birth prematurely out of stress; mothers have had too little milk to breastfeed their newly born."

Theme (s): Food Security,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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