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Africa

CAR interim president urges donor aid as hunger, election looms

While interim President Catherine Samba-Panza was seeking financial support at the European Union in Brussels, the humanitarian situation in the Central African Republic is getting worse.

At a donors' conference in Brussels held on Tuesday (26.05.2015), Central African Republic's interim President Catherine Samba-Panza met with, among others, EU foreign policy chief Federica Morgherini and German Development Minister Gerd Müller.

Samba-Panza urged European countries to help her war-torn nation return to democracy by the end of the year. She also said the CAR "lacks a lot of money" which they need to enable them organize a democratic and credible election. She also insisted that they "can not go to the polls without having security in the country."

Europe is planning to invest more than 100 million euros ($108 million) in helping to rebuild the country economically and politically. The EU is by far the most important donor in the Central African Republic, which relies on foreign aid to urgently address its acute problems.

Apart from providing the country with food assistance, Brussels is also expected to help the country in repatriating hundreds of thousands of refugees, provide money for preparing the elections and help the war-torn country in the disarmament and reintegration of militias back into society.

A forgotten humanitarian crisis

A few weeks ago the United Nations raised the alarm in a statement: "The worst forgotten humanitarian crisis of our time is looming in the Central African Republic." About half a million people are living as refugees in their own country. Two thirds of the population in the war torn country are dependent on foreign aid.

In an interview with DW, Cornelia Pätz, spokesperson of the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), describes the situation on the ground as "extremely difficult."

Even before the conflict, 1.5 million people were suffering from hunger. But recently the plight has worsened dramatically, Pätz said. "The production in agricultural sector has halved and only a quarter of domestic animals that existed before the crisis, have survived. The situation is really bad," Pätz said.

Soldiers in uniforms sitting inside a lory

Central African Republic sank into crisis after a 2013 coup

At the same time, relief organizations are facing major challenges as aid from the World Food Program is repeatedly plundered as a result of the political climate and the precarious security situation. Relief workers have themselves been attacked.

Humanitarian aid not reaching the needy

Consequently, only part of the food aid arrives to people in need. One of them is Abouni Fissato. At the Central Mosque in the capital Bangui, the 55-year-old is waiting for his food ration. She lost her family two years ago when the crisis began and she had to flee from her neighborhood. Since then she has been in dire need of aid. "At the beginning we were getting enough food. We got salt, beans, rice and sometimes corn. But the rations got smaller by the day. They are simply no longer sufficient," Fissato said.

These kinds of complaints are getting more and more lately, as Ali Mahamat, a relief worker, confirmed. Because the food aid is partially being robed by criminals, those in need end up getting one litre (0.2 gallons) of oil instead of two, and instead of five pieces of soap they get three.

Food vouchers for help

The United Nations World Food Program has now started a voucher program that can help in relief programs. The idea is, instead of merely supplying large quantities of food from abroad, the new system should help to fairly distribute the food available. The voucher program should also ensure that local producers and traders are economically involved in taking care of those in need of food. This should revive "a sense of normalcy of economic life."

Central African Republic Interim President Catherine Samba-Panza

Samba-Panza is drumming up support to fund elections scheduled by the end of the year

The system however, works only in some parts of Bangui and other places where there is a market with a variety of food available. "These vouchers have a value of $10 (9 euros), per person, per month. People use these vouchers to buy food from their local stores," said Cornelia Pätz. "But rice, oil and lentils are provided by WFP without vouchers."

Criticism on food vouchers

Nevertheless, DW correspondent in Bangui reports that there have been a lot of criticisms on the so-called "food coupons." Many people complain that the value of the vouchers is too low and that peoples’ freedom have been infringed because aid agencies and traders have made a pre-selection on which foods may be issued in exchange for vouchers.

Ismael Oumar, a manager of a grocery store in Bangui confirmed that he could only give a few products in exchange of food vouchers. "A liter of oil, a kilo of sugar, a kilo of rice and two pieces of soap."

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