United Nations agencies have announced that as many as 50,000 people may go hungry in the northwest of the Central African Republic (CAR) because of fighting between armed groups and the national army.
"Thousands of people risk starvation if we do not act very fast," Jean-Charles Dei, the World Food Programme (WFP) representative in Bangui, said in a statement made available on Tuesday by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
"People, including women, children and the elderly, live in the forest and are forced to eat wild roots, often poisonous over the long term, to stay alive," he said. "We will need four and half million dollars to feed the target group of 50,000 people during six months and prevent humanitarian tragedy."
The people at risk are in the far northwest of the country in Ouham and Ouham-Pendé provinces, near the border with southern Chad. The region has been a volatile area since current President Francois Bozize began a rebellion that culminated in a coup in March 2003.
"Following frequent security incidents that intensified since December 2005, food scarcity is rapidly increasing," OCHA reported.
"Between the town of Boguila and the border, all villages were empty and even authorities had left the area," said Souleymane Beye, an OCHA official who recently returned from the area.
International donors have been slow to respond to an OCHA-led humanitarian appeal for funding made by various NGOs and UN agencies.
"If funding to address these needs is not received very soon, thousands of people could die," said OCHA's Maurizio Giuliano.