CAR: Food insecurity reaches catastrophic proportions
The Central African Republic (CAR) is a fertile country. It rains abundantly, the soil is rich and a variety of crops, fruits and vegetables grow almost year-round. Despite this apparent abundance, one in two people do not have enough to eat. The reason for this is the conflict, which has intensified again since the beginning of the year. The number of internally displaced people has not been this high since 2014, now reaching 658,000 people, and far more in the previous months. People live in fear of attacks and abuses by armed groups, which limits their mobility and access to fields and forests for farming, gathering and hunting. This dangerous environment also limits the access of humanitarian organizations to people in need of assistance. One of the consequences is the continued deterioration of food insecurity since last year.
A grim picture
Nutrition and food security indicators for the lean season, which runs from April to August, are likely to be bleak. Poor access to agricultural inputs and the impact of the conflict on livelihoods have reduced cultivated land and affected household food stocks. In April, CAR reported one of the highest proportions of critically food insecure people in the world, along with Yemen, South Sudan and Afghanistan: nearly 50 per cent of the population (2.2 million people) do not have enough to eat and do not know where their next meal will come from. The situation is particularly worrying in the Bakouma, Koui, Ngaoundaye, Obo and Zémio Sub-prefectures where the proportion of people affected by food insecurity is between 65 and 75 per cent. In West and Central Africa, CAR is the country with the second highest number of people in emergency food situation after Nigeria, with 638,000 people on the verge of famine, according to recent results of the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC).
Supply chain disruptions driven by the COVID-19 pandemic have contributed to an increase in already high food prices in CAR. In addition, new dynamics from the conflict in Ukraine are gradually further exacerbating supply chain disruptions, leading to price increases for basic food items, but also increasing the costs of the food basket per person assisted and the prices related to agricultural assistance. By August, the prices of some of the most commonly consumed goods in CAR are expected to increase by 30 to more than 70 percent. Yet, already in 2020, 71 per cent of Central Africans were living below the poverty line (US$1.9 per day) and rely today on local markets that are under pressure. The current fuel shortage in the country is placing an additional burden on households and significantly disrupts humanitarian operations. In some regions, humanitarian organizations have been forced to scale back their movements to a minimum.
An urgent appeal
The various disruptions in the supply chain have caused a 19 per cent increase in the budget planned by the Food Security Cluster, which brings together humanitarian actors working in this sector. At the beginning of this year, the Cluster was planning to assist 2 million of the most severely food insecure people for a total budget of US$163.4 million. Today, the Cluster needs to mobilize an additional US$31.4 million, for a total budget of nearly US$195 million.
In February 2022, the Humanitarian Coordinator in CAR allocated US$8 million from the CAR Humanitarian Fund to cover the most urgent needs of 261,000 people in 10 sub-prefectures most severely affected by both food insecurity and conflict. But this support is still not sufficient given the scale of the situation. If the humanitarian response is not scaled up immediately, more than 2 million people will see their food situation deteriorate significantly; among them, 638,000 people who are already in the emergency phase, on the verge of famine.
With no end to the conflict in sight, the vast majority of people affected by the crisis will continue to rely on humanitarian assistance in the months ahead. Only 38 per cent of the country's Humanitarian Response Plan 2022 is currently funded. The lack of resources to meet the population's exploding needs, coupled with disruptions in the supply chain, has already forced the World Food Programme (WFP) and partners to cut the monthly food ration it distributes by half.
Child malnutrition and food insecurity
In February, 214,000 children under the age of five were at risk of acute malnutrition, in a country where the mortality rate for this age group is the third highest in the world. The risk is particularly high for displaced children and those living in conflict-affected areas, where access to food, clean water, health care and nutrition services has been severely restricted and food prices have soared. Across the country, 395,000 children under the age of five are chronically malnourished, 40 per cent of all children in this age group – a rate considerably higher than the emergency threshold of 30 per cent. Inadequate nutrition over a long period disrupts their growth. Acute malnutrition is a major public health problem and a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in young children.
During the first quarter of 2022, humanitarian partners provided life-saving food and nutritional assistance to 277,750 people. However, humanitarian access remains very limited, if not impossible, in several localities in Ouham-Pendé, Haut-Mbomou, Basse-Kotto and Ouaka Prefectures.
In June 2021, the World Bank approved a three-year, US$50 million grant to boost food production and build resilience among pastoralists and other food-insecure households. This funding will provide much-needed support to more than 465,000 food-insecure people through cash-for-work activities, while rehabilitating small-scale agricultural infrastructure in six prefectures in the west, center and the capital Bangui.
Investing in sustainable solutions
Humanitarian partners are also investing in more sustainable solutions for the prevention and treatment of malnutrition, including the promotion of nutritious foods, good feeding practices for infants, children and pregnant and breastfeeding women, and a multisectoral response related to the provision of quality basic social services, including water, sanitation and hygiene, health care and protection.