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A plea for food and peace in Central African Republic

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The United Nations said yesterday it's feeding 160,000 victims of recent fighting in the Central African Republic. The White House also announced a US $10 million donation to the UN World Food Programme (WFP) for its relief mission there.

In the Central African Republic (CAR) there are over a million people impacted by hunger. The impoverished nation has suffered through a year of shocks, starting with the overthrow of the government by Seleka rebels. Instead of a functioning transitional government and democratic elections, there has been chaos.

Thousands have fled their homes, seeking refuge in churches, because of increasing attacks by rebel groups. International peacekeepers have been sent in to establish security.

Renee Lambert of Catholic Relief Services says, "The situation is desperate. In the capital Bangui, where I am, there has been shooting on the streets and people hacked to death with machetes. Tens of thousands of people are camped out at makeshift camps throughout the city or sheltering with host families, hoping that the arriving French troops can quell the violence."

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, says, "In the west of the country, in Bouar, our team witnessed clear attempts to foment fear and distrust among religious communities, and the reported involvement of armed elements from neighbouring countries. We have also received reports that ex- Séléka forces have been distributing weapons to the Muslim civilian population."

Lieutenant General Babacar Gaye, representing the UN, reports there is a disarmament process underway in Bangui. Former combatants, though, must receive humanitarian aid or, in time, they may resort again to violence out of want and desperation.

Reisa, a young peace activist from the Central African Republic, says, "when confronted with hunger, rape and roving gangs attacking them, people will respond with violence just to survive, not necessarily out of hate."

Humanitarian aid is critical to the peace process. The year of fighting and unrest has escalated a hunger crisis in the country. Farmers have either been forced from their land or do not have seeds to plant. More food shortages are certain to follow. Even when violence is quelled, hunger can remain for months or even years afterwards because of damage to food production and distribution. Many families have lost their livelihoods. Hunger is taking its toll on children, especially.

The UN says, "The number of children in need of malnutrition treatment has increased in some areas affected by conflict and population displacement."

Save the Children is carrying out nutritional screenings to identify cases of severe acute malnutrition, which requires life-saving treatment such as Plumpy'Nut. This nutrient-rich peanut paste can save children's lives.

The UN reported that some nutritional treatment centers had to close with the recent fighting. It is estimated that 950 cases of severe malnutrition had to go without treatment as a result.

Action Against Hunger and UNICEF "are taking a huge effort" to reopen these centers. Some are now operating again. Almost half of the 950 lost malnutrition cases have been identified so they can resume treatment.

As the new year approaches can the international community and the voices for peace end the violence? The challenge of bringing in enough humanitarian aid is another critical issue for the coming year. Will there be enough funding for the World Food Programme, UNICEF and other aid groups to do their part to bring recovery? The future of the Central African Republic depends on this action.



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