At least 80,000 children under the age of five are currently at risk of severe acute malnutrition across the Central African Republic (CAR) – a 29 per cent increase compared to projections for 2021 , UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP) announced today. The UN agencies also warned that over 632,000 people – more than one in eight people – will fall into a catastrophic hunger situation between the first week of July and the end of the lean season without urgent action. Across the country, 40 per cent of children under five are already suffering from chronic malnutrition , a rate above the emergency threshold of 30 percent.
As a result of the combined impact of violence, insecurity, population displacement, limited access to food, health and water and sanitation services, the rise in food prices, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic socio-economic impacts, 27 localities across 14 health districts of the country are currently showing alarming levels of severe acute malnutrition among children under five. Based on the most recent data gathered from partners, on average more than two per cent of children in these areas suffer from severe acute malnutrition. These figures rise to above three per cent in displacement camps around Bouar, close to the border with Cameroon.
“We are extremely concerned about the impact of the ongoing crisis on the lives of children and women, especially those who were already in a state of extreme vulnerability after being forced to flee their homes, or who are living in hard-to reach or isolated areas,” said UNICEF’s Representative in CAR, Fran Equiza. “If we are not able to safely access mothers and children in a timely fashion and provide them with the nutrition services they need, including access to food and health, many may die from malnutrition or preventable diseases”.
Since the last wave of violence linked to recent elections, malnutrition rates in CAR have continued to soar, especially among displaced populations and in conflict-affected locations, where access to essential health, water and sanitation and nutrition services was already limited and has been further restricted. In these areas, the potential emergence of measles, malaria, pneumonia, and diarrhoea may have a devastating effect on malnourished children and mothers.
“The food security situation is alarming with a clear indication that many vulnerable people may quickly fall into a catastrophic situation. The level of funding does not match the dramatic increased needs across the country,” said WFP CAR Country Director, Peter Schaller.
“The operational environment also becomes more complicated with the loss of humanitarian space due to the ongoing conflict. We need humanitarian access and funding to provide the much-needed assistance to the affected people,” he added.
WFP currently provides food and nutrition assistance to some 800,000 people, including people internally displaced, refugees, returnees, as well as host communities. WFP also delivers emergency assistance to hotspots to alleviate the suffering of affected families.
Since January, UNICEF and their partners have been treating at least 12,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition, including in the most affected areas and in displacement camps. The nutrition services currently being provided, however, continue to be disrupted by conflict: at the end of May 2021, 77 nutrition units – 1 in 5 – and 30 health facilities were closed – 14 of which were attacked – and a dozen mobile clinics remained temporarily closed across the country.
WFP also plans to reach at least 50,000 children suffering from moderate acute malnutrition in hotspots, approximately 90,000 children aged to 6-23 months, as well as 150,000 pregnant and lactating women with supplementary feeding programmes at community level, in areas where stunting rates are above 30 percent.
In 2021, UNICEF is seeking to raise USD $ 15.2 million to treat at least 63,000 children under the age of five suffering from severe acute malnutrition, and to prevent malnutrition by providing counselling to almost 165,000 pregnant and lactating women on optimal infant and young child feeding practices, and ensuring that almost 650,000 children under the age of five receive vitamin A supplementation every six months. As of today, the appeal is only 45 per cent funded.
WFP’s budget in 2021 for its response in the Central African Republic is about USD $ 203 million. However, programmes are facing a severe shortfall, with less than 50 percent of contributions received so far. This may lead to a cut in food rations, to the prioritisation of only the most vulnerable people, or, in the worst-case scenario, to an interruption of activities due to lack of resources.