Child Food PovertyThe Central African Republic, a landlocked nation in sub-Saharan Africa, is bordered to the south by the Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Uganda, to the west by Cameroon, and to the north by Chad and South Sudan. Founded as an independent nation after a period of French colonial rule in 1960, the Central African Republic was saturated with various structural challenges dating from before and during colonial administration. The product of this history and several ongoing conflicts, as well as poverty from decades of relative economic and land mismanagement, have resulted in the Central African Republic failing to overcome among the highest poverty rates globally. Land and natural resource mismanagement has, in particular, rendered the nation’s most vulnerable populations, especially children, vulnerable to food insecurity. There are four primary causes of this child hunger.

Civil War

Following several military coups and continued ethnic tension dating from the nineteenth century culminated in a civil war beginning in the 1990s. Over the past twenty years, the nation has transitioned back to constitutional democracy since a final pro-democracy military coup in 2003 brought a new constitution and various multi-party elections. However, civil wars remain prominent, with several rebel organizations still active in the country’s north. Following these conflicts, the central government’s institutions, based in the Central African Republic’s historic metropolitan center, Bangui, have been substantially weakened, limiting the ability of public institutions to provide essential social services reliably. Additionally, recent post-election violence has added to this deprivation.

Economic Activity and Supply

Though many ceasefires have kept military tensions from worsening, rebel militias remain in control of large swathes of the nation, hampering economic output in all sectors, including agriculture. This dynamic has worsened poverty due to an absence of employment opportunities; 75% of the Central African Republic’s population is impoverished, statistically among the highest globally. This, coupled with a 35% reduction in the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, has led to most households losing purchasing power, with recent reports indicating 65% to 75% of household income is allocated towards food.

The Most Vulnerable Demographics

High socioeconomic inequality most impacts women and young children in rural regions of the country, partially the result of longstanding inequality of land ownership common in sub-Saharan Africa. Additionally, rural families depending on subsistence or localized agriculture, already strained by circumstance, were often most impacted by the depredation of civil war. This has most substantially affected children among the youth population of the Central African Republic. Currently, the United Nations Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, estimates that 40% of children under five years of age are suffering from malnutrition, while 30% suffer from malnutrition; rates are considered an “emergency threshold.” This growing number of malnourished children has prompted fears that already limited access to social services, such as education, will be exacerbated. This has rendered international food aid fundamental to preventing backsliding, in particular related to children. Currently, the World Food Program provides 36,000 children under 5 years of age with fortified meals as part of the initiative to improve nutrition, vaccination rates and health training.

International Efforts

Following the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, immediate impacts on Ukrainian grain exports, on which sub-Saharan Africa is predominantly dependent, especially nations that rely on food imports, such as the Central African Republic. Increased costs for food imports, of importance due to structurally low domestic productivity, are overextending residents in the world’s poorest nations, including the Central African Republic. 

This development has been especially pronounced among already impoverished children, with child malnutrition increasing at high rates; since 2020, severe acute malnutrition among children under five years of age has increased by 25%. This has acted to reverse decades of efforts by international aid organizations, ranging from the International Monetary Fund, UNICEF, and prominent national donors, to counter the precarious situation for children and other vulnerable demographics, such as women in rural areas, with investments to improve security and resources. 

Before recent setbacks, child hunger in the Central African Republic was relatively lower than its neighboring countries in sub-Saharan Africa, with most large families obtaining direct and widespread international aid. In 2017 alone, UNICEF programs aided 850,000 in the Central African Republic through initiatives such as the WASH, a series of centers nationwide providing safe drinking water educational and health care services.

In conclusion, while international aid has proven integral to improving the impoverished circumstances in the Central African Republic, child hunger remains an ongoing and worsening crisis as the scale of deprivation among children is exacerbated by external factors, such as the war in Ukraine. As a result, organizations such as the IMF and individual nations are evaluating ways to encourage reform and expand programs. However, though a consensus remains, both are contingent on continued funding for the international programs that have prevented more significant crises from emerging.

– Cormac Sullivan
Photo: Flickr

Improving Conditions for Refugees in the Central African RepublicRefugees are beginning to return home to the Central African Republic after years of religious internal conflict. Around 600,000 people have been displaced internally and another 600,000 displaced internationally since the start of the conflict. Now, about 2.6 million people that once resided peacefully in the CAR are reliant on humanitarian assistance. The U.N. has been heavily involved in peacekeeping missions and is beginning the process of transferring the Central African Republic refugees back to home soil.

Political Progress in the CAR

The Central African Republic’s politics are one way that citizens will regain their freedom within the country. The U.N. Security Council is interacting with the CAR government to get humanitarian war crimes accounted for and penalized. The war has led to numerous human rights violations and international forums have condemned the actions. Other political progress is being made to elect leaders based on a democratic method. The proposed elections are seen as a method of peacefully negotiating between political differences without force. This holistic method of finding peace incurs that the problem be examined from all angles and solutions will be diverse.

Refugees’ Experience and Local Aid

Since the CAR is land-locked, refugees have scattered in camps in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, Chad, Cameroon and Sudan. The journey for many leaving the territory of the CAR was extreme. Many refugees walked for weeks, hid in forests and were plagued with malnutrition. The resilience of the refugees is coming to fruition in the current transition to peace. Much progress is being made on the ground in the CAR that would create more stability in the government and society.

The problems faced by the displaced are numerous but also change from one area to the next. Much is being done to ease their basic needs, as the area is veiled in violence. The United Nations has adapted to local aid initiatives that provide effective assistance. Additionally, the U.N. has contributed $14.3 million to “help support local aid agencies deliver clean water, education, healthcare, livelihoods support, nutrition, protection and shelter.” Each of these assists makes the return of refugees more possible and more likely.

Humanitarian Aid

One institution committed to helping the Central African Republic refugees is UNICEF. The major ways the organization has contributed to the cause has to do with basic needs being met. For children, the organization is delivering Ready-to-Use-Therapeutic-Food that fights malnutrition and providing immunizations against diseases. Additionally, UNICEF is providing clean water, setting up temporary shelters, training teachers and encouraging education in camps and opening accessible sanitization stations. These major provisions are invaluable and majorly supporting the needs of refugees.

Another high priority for UNICEF is the resettlement of refugees within the country. The Central African Republic refugees, either internally or externally displaced, have begun rebuilding their lives. In 2019, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) propelled a $430 million campaign to assist displaced refugees of the Central African Republic. Although funding and donations have not fulfilled this expensive plan, the campaign has certainly made headway. The coordination of funds is extremely beneficial in restructuring the country and enforcing the progress made in the developing peace agreements.

Major strides in assistance, both political and humanitarian, are making peace possible in the Central African Republic. The basic relief provided by both UNICEF and UNHCR is stabilizing the situation for refugees worldwide. As displaced groups transition back to their homes, currently and in the future, the assistance will be instrumental in securing a steady return.

– Eva Pound
Photo: Flickr 

U.S. Congressman Urges More Aid to the Central African RepublicRep. David Cicilline (D–R.I.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said critical aid to the Central African Republic (CAR) was necessary after visiting the country with a congressional delegation in August. He stated that the international community “has to think about the long-term implications of abandoning our efforts to stabilize this country.”

Cicilline specifically criticized the 2017 withdrawal of U.S. special operation forces in the African country. Since the withdrawal, members of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel faction in CAR, have continued to attack civilians, particularly in the country’s southeast region.

Since its independence from France in 1960, CAR has experienced near-constant sectarian violence and political instability, usually caused by religious or ethnic conflicts. Its economy, infrastructure and development have suffered as a result.

The Central African Republic ranks last on the U.N. Human Development Index. More than 60 percent of the population lives in poverty, and only 36.8 percent are literate. Preventable diseases, such as malaria and malnutrition, have contributed to an average life expectancy of 52.3 years.

According to Oxfam, 60 percent of CAR is controlled by rebel groups. In fact, the U.S. suspended embassy operations in CAR from December 2012 to September 2014 due to violence spurred by civil war. This violence also has displaced 600,000 people.

The U.S. has historically provided aid to the Central African Republic. In the past two years, the U.S. spent more than $500 million in humanitarian, development and security assistance to CAR. The U.S. also supported U.N. peace operations in CAR, which sent more than 10,000 peacekeepers to the embattled country.

However, the U.S. recently decreased aid to the Central African Republic. For FY 2017, the U.S. sent $48.6 million in aid to CAR, compared to $64.7 million in FY 2016. USAID also stated their purpose in CAR is to primarily respond to humanitarian crises as opposed to supporting long-term development.

The U.N. mission mandate in CAR ends in November. At that time, the U.N. Security Council can send additional peacekeeping support to the country.

CAR remains a complicated geopolitical issue. Nonetheless, the international community remains committed to providing aid to the Central African Republic to promote stability and development and empower its population to rise out of poverty.

Sean Newhouse