U.N. agency: Central African Republic on 'brink of catastrophe'

The World Food Programme warns of increasing malnutrition and disease amid ongoing conflict

The World Food Programme warns of increasing malnutrition and disease amid ongoing conflict

BANGUI, Central African Republic – The U.N.’s World Food Programme has warned that the Central African Republic is on the "brink of catastrophe" amid increasing malnutrition and fears of a malaria epidemic.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the charity focused on the situation in the capital, Bangui, claiming that just a few months ago there were 30 malnourished children admitted to Bangui’s Paediatric hospital. It now says there are up to 150 such cases and that new tents have been erected in the hospital courtyard to handle the overflow of patients.

Even before conflict broke out, childhood malnutrition was a major problem in the country. According to U.N. data, given their poor diet, nearly 40 percent of children under five were stunted. Today, with the entire population of the capital affected by violence and looting, levels of malnutrition are rising.

Paediatrician Dr. Esperance Touane said: "Just a few days or a week without proper treatment, and a child could develop by severe acute malnutrition. As a result, these children may never fully develop their physical and cognitive capacities." 

"The number of children who need to be hospitalized has tripled or even quadrupled. The situation is dramatic. And the worst is yet to come," said Susan Shepherd, a WFP nutritionist working in Bangui.

At the moment, the WFP and the humanitarian community do not have the resources they need to prevent this tragedy, she added.

The WFP has also warned of an outbreak of communicable disease -- particularly malaria -- now that the country’s rainy season has started.

The charity revealed that between December 5, 2013, and February 9, 2014, 40 percent of 44,500 children under-5 who had undergone medical checks in displacement sites in Bangui had contracted malaria.

The Central African Republic descended into anarchy a year ago when 'seleka' rebels removed Francois Bozize, a Christian who had come to power in a 2003 coup. The rebels later installed Michel Djotodia, a Muslim, as interim president.

Since then, the country has been plagued by tit-for-tat sectarian violence between Christian anti-balaka militias and Muslim former seleka fighters.

 "People have already almost exhausted their food stocks and the lean season is only just beginning. We are on the brink of catastrophe," Shepherd said.

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