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A general view of the street in Yaloké on 23/02/22.A general view of the street in Yaloké on 23/02/22.A general view of the street in Yaloké on 23/02/22.

Hunger in Central African Republic: A massive humanitarian crisis

Hunger in Central African Republic: A massive humanitarian crisis
Story29 March 2023

The landlocked Central African Republic (CAR) is experiencing a silent, yet severe, humanitarian crisis.

This year has been particularly harsh for the Central African Republic, with the continuation of the toxic cocktail of conflict, the climate crisis and COVID-19 combined with new features such as a fuel shortage and staple food prices skyrocketing.

It has left millions of people vulnerable, mostly farmers, to food shocks and further crises.

The upcoming UNOCHA Humanitarian Needs Overview for 2023 forecasts an estimated 3.4 million people in need, out of 6.1 million inhabitants. This protracted humanitarian crisis has given Concern the imperative to continue life-saving activities that started in the aftermath of the 2013 political crisis.

Progress in tackling hunger has largely halted, and in 2021 the number of undernourished people worldwide reached a catastrophic 828 million.

Between 2019 and 2021, a staggering 52.2% of the CAR population was undernourished – the highest rate to be found in this year’s report – with more than one child in ten not living to see their fifth birthday.

The 2019 Khartoum peace agreement reached after years of violence and instability was never fully implemented – meaning a chronic cycle of violence and displacement – and the situation has become even tougher as a result of a contentious election cycle between 2020 and 2021.

Empty state coffers

In such a huge and predominantly rural country, the administration struggles to deliver essential services such as a targeted gratuity for pregnant and lactating women, and healthcare for children under five.

Most hospitals, health centres and posts need NGO support to fully function and cover their staff salaries.

As poor road conditions further deteriorate in the rainy season, movements are limited, and therefore localised ground solutions and solidarity are vital to compensate for the lack of central funding and access to micro-finance institutions.

Across the Central African Republic, life is getting tougher for those looking to help others, and to make a living themselves.

Aimé’s story

Aimé Kembi is 27-years-old, married with five children, and sells all manner of goods in his small shop in Gbadengue Town in the southern part of Central African Republic.

Aimé has a huge heart, and sometimes finds himself out of pocket by allowing shop credit to those struggling to make ends meet.

He enjoys his work.

“I sell a lot of things, it varies from food stuffs life sardines, oil, juice, clothes, shoes or even beer. I have a boutique in the market,” he tells us, but the spiralling costs associated with his business make life difficult for him and his family.

Aimé's shop in Gbadengue Town. Photo: Ed Ram / Concern Worldwide.
Aimé's shop in Gbadengue Town. Photo: Ed Ram / Concern Worldwide.

Aimé has also had to contend with the cost of conflict, and speaks about an armed onslaught in his area in 2020.

“I ran with everything to the bush and hid things like food and cloth in my farm, I buried some and hid some,” he explains.

“Then I ran to another place 15km away from my farm and sold things like sugar and coffee and things that people could eat.

“People couldn’t buy clothes and other non-essential items so after four months I came back to find all the cloth and shoes I had hidden were damaged by insects and water, I had to throw them all away.”

Community-based malnutrition screening

Concern CAR currently works with around 100 Community Relays (RECOs) in the area, locally elected people trained in malnutrition symptoms and in referral procedures.

Aimé has also worked as a RECO with Concern since 2015, checking on - on average - his neighbourhood children once a week to ensure they’re staying healthy, and providing advice to their parents.

“I do this work because I have a worry for my community and I don’t want children to die because of this malnourishment,” he says.

“Mostly what I do is I follow up on the children that I screen to make sure they get better and recover, then I check up on them to be sure the malnourishment doesn’t return.

“I know how to spot the symptoms such as the colour of the hair, their feet, they become very skinny - I used the materials they give me to measure them and if it is in yellow then it is moderate malnutrition and if it is in red it is severe. Thanks to this I can use this information to check on my children and make sure they are ok too.”

There is room for hope

Aimé in his shop
"I don’t want children to die because of this malnourishment,” Aimé tells us. Photo: Ed Ram / Concern Worldwide.

Central Africans show an impressive resilience, steadily enduring political coups and a number of civil and social crises.

The population is also extremely young with 78% being under 35, and 50% under 18, meaning a new generation and workforce is coming with new creative ideas.

Since spring 2021, there has been a relative stability nation-wide in terms of conflict, following the unrest that arose the previous winter during presidential elections. This means that humanitarian workers have been able to work in more towns and villages throughout the country.

Also, there have been advances in the speed at which cassava - a staple food within the country - can be grown with improved seeds developed in 2006. Concern will start using it on a new Irish Aid programme in 2023. It grows within six months, as against the previous 18 months, and can greatly alleviate the impact of the lean season and the response to shocks.

However, until the international community starts paying attention to one of the hungriest nations on the planet, there is a long way to go before the situation can improve for Aimé, his family, his friends and 6 million more like them.

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