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One of the poorest nations in the world, the Central African Republic (CAR,) sees 90 percent of its citizens survive on just one meal per day. Sectarian and religious violence, primarily targeting the minority Muslim population, only makes matters worse.

Most food trade in the capital city of Bangui is reliant on the imports of wholesale vendors, which are resold by small traders in the marketplace. Muslims, however, own and control these wholesalers, in addition to a large proportion of the agricultural sector as well. And the Muslims are fleeing.

About 40 large wholesalers participated in the market before Muslim leader Michel Djotodia seized power in a coup in March 2013. Less than a year later, only 10 remain. It should not be terribly shocking that Muslims, who live in constant fear for their lives amid ever-increasing violence, are embarking on a massive exodus out of the CAR and into neighboring countries such as Chad and Cameroon.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM,) over 60,000 people have already fled since December 5, 2013, when Christian militias and soldiers exploded into violence.

The Muslim exodus has left farmers without access to seeds, prevented food trucks from crossing the border due to fear of attack and risks an incredible rise in prices as food supplies dry up. If security does not improve soon, the 10 remaining wholesalers claim they will leave as well. Even if they were to stay, profits would be minimal. Over the past two months, sales dropped 90 percent among wholesalers because people can no longer afford to buy the food they need.

Philippe Conraud, Oxfam country director, argues that the combination of people being forced out of the country and the inability for food to come in risks turning the situation into something analogous to a siege. French and African troops, sent to the CAR by the United Nations Security Council, have proven unable to halt the atrocious violence thus far.

In addition to the tumultuous effects fleeing traders have on the country of their origin, neighboring countries must prepare for the economic outcomes of the present circumstances. With at least 30,000 refugees in Chad and 10,000 so far in Cameroon, these neighboring countries have their hands full with the conflict’s humanitarian crisis.

Giovanni Cassani, emergency coordinator for the IOM, touches on the enormity of the problem. 50,000 people can make up a small town. Unless the situation in the CAR improves soon, neighboring countries will have to deal with the long-term economic transformations of a Muslim exodus.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: BBC, Global Post, Washington Post
Photo: Oxfam International