Hunger in the Central African Republic
The Central African Republic (CAR), a landlocked country in Central Africa, has one of the highest rates of hunger in the world. In fact, it ranks second-to-last on the 2019 Human Development Index. After gaining independence from France in 1960, the country has struggled with weak markets, low productivity, gender inequality and hunger following years of political instability and conflict.

Hunger in the Central African Republic has become a more drastic concern as a result of a 2013 coup, which ousted President François Bozizé and led to a 36% reduction in the country’s GDP. The country’s ongoing civil war, with renewed violence starting in 2017, has displaced people from their homes and has led to rising food prices due to weakened food production. While much of the country is self-sufficient in food crops like cassava, peanuts and millet, the tsetse fly has hindered livestock development.

Natural Impacts on Agriculture

In the Central African Republic, the tsetse fly has contributed to a disease called animal trypanosomiasis, a fatal disease that impacts cattle and wild animals. The tsetse fly is responsible for killing off a significant portion of CAR’s livestock. Tsetse flies also cause sleeping sickness in humans. This can lead to seizures, central nervous system failure, fever and weight loss. With little food or clean water, people with sleeping sickness are often unable to recover from these symptoms.

According to researcher Paterne Mombe in a Wilson Center interview, the government of CAR enacted agricultural policies over the last 50 years that shifted focus towards importing food instead of growing it themselves. This has resulted in underperforming agricultural output. As a result of poor agricultural practices, Mombe stated that this has led to conflict against the government, the destruction of farmland and lack of policy reform. From 2012 to 2016, agricultural production of the country dropped to 65%.

Of the country’s 4.8 million people, 79% live in poverty, caused by not only displacement and conflict but also a below-average agricultural season and COVID-19 prevention measures. Although the rainfall level in 2020 has been generally average, the vegetation index is slightly in deficit due to the low rainfall that occurred between January and February 2020, subsequently leading to increasing prices for agricultural goods. The CDC has deemed the COVID-19 risk in CAR as high, meaning that movement restrictions have contributed to sharp increases in the price of essential food items, diminishing the ability of poor households to purchase food. The IPC predicts that COVID-19 will “have a drastic impact” on the economy and food supply chains.

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the Central African Republic

According to USAID, there were more than 697,000 IDPs in CAR in March 2020, as well as 616,000 Central African refugees in neighboring countries. Although the Government and 14 armed groups in the country signed a Peace Agreement in 2019, escalating conflict in the northeast of the country displaced another approximately 27,000 people between December 2019 and March 2020. As much of the population relies heavily on farming for their food, those who have experienced displacement have struggled to adjust to new climates or geographies; others have fled to areas prone to high food prices, poor access to clean water and few employment opportunities.

Concerning hunger in the Central African Republic, the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report found that 750,000 people are in a food insecurity emergency (which is a phase below famine), while 1.6 million are in a food insecurity crisis (which is a stage below emergency). Around February 2013, estimates determined that slightly over 20% of the country’s population were in urgent need of assistance, as opposed to over 40% in 2020.

CAR Ranks Unhealthiest Country in the World

The United Nations reported that an estimated 1.3 million people in CAR will require assistance to prevent and treat malnutrition in 2020, which includes nearly 50,000 children under 5 years of age suffering from severe malnutrition. A study by researchers at the University of Seattle in 2016 found that CAR ranks first in unhealthiest countries, due to malnutrition, AIDS and lack of resources. The UN World Food Programme has also noted that around 40% of children aged between 6 months and 5 years are stunted due to a lack of nutrients in their diet. The IPC has projected that some households in northwestern, southeastern and southwestern CAR will require emergency food assistance in the coming months to avoid emergency levels of acute food insecurity.

Response to the Central African Republic’s Hunger Crisis

In response to heightened food insecurity in CAR, the World Food Programme (WFP) and non-governmental organizations, have worked to prevent and treat malnutrition with funding from USAID’s Office of Food for Peace. In collaboration with the European Commission and countries like Germany and South Korea, WFP has provided emergency food and nutrition assistance to conflict-affected people throughout the country. These efforts reached over 920,000 people in 2018.

The WFP has recently scaled up its general food distributions and has conducted a food security program for children under 5 and pregnant and nursing mothers. It has also helped strengthen CAR’s Zero Hunger policies, including doubling producer incomes and adapting food systems to eliminate waste. The WFP also offers rehabilitation programs like Food Assistance for Assets, which provides people with work like repairing roads and bridges. Another program is Purchase for Progress, which helps poor farmers gain access to reliable markets to sell crops at a surplus.

Started in 2007, the organization ACTED provides emergency relief to the most vulnerable and displaced populations. It also works to strengthen the resilience of populations and local authorities. ACTED currently has teams in Ouham Pendé, Ouaka, Basse Kotto, Mbomou, Haut Mbomou and the capital Bangui. Meanwhile, other organizations like Concern Worldwide, Mercy Corps and Oxfam International are helping combat food insecurity through food-for-assets activities, food vouchers and local agriculture initiatives.

However, as COVID-19 continues to negatively impact the lives of thousands of civilians in CAR, hunger in the Central African Republic needs increased attention and aid to battle the rise of acute malnutrition in the midst of a civil war. The IPC advises that organizations implement urgent actions targeted at the most critical regions to facilitate access to food, put in place measures to prevent and combat COVID-19’s spread and improve food utilization by facilitating the access of populations to drinking water sources and awareness of hygiene and sanitation protocols.

– Noah Sheidlower
Photo: Flickr