November 21, 2018 / 4:30 PM / 22 days ago

Violence-ridden Central African Republic on road to famine: U.N.

GENEVA (Reuters) - Endemic violence in Central African Republic is pushing the country towards famine with 63 percent of the population already needing emergency aid, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in the country said on Wednesday.

Central African Republic (CAR) has been in chaos since 2013, when mainly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted the president, provoking a backlash from Christian anti-balaka militias.

The fighting has uprooted more than 1 million people. The U.N. humanitarian chief in the country, Najat Rochdi, said 2.9 million of the 4.6 million population needed aid, and 1.6 million were in acute need.

In August, a food security survey assessed that for the first time, parts of CAR were in an “emergency”. That is the level four in a globally recognized food security classification system, where five is “catastrophe/famine”.

“If the situation is remaining the same and people are not going back to work their fields... it means that, yes, in a very few years we will have a famine in Central African Republic,” Rochdi told reporters in Geneva.

Such a catastrophic scenario would not arise immediately, but could threaten hundreds of thousands, she said.

Violence has continued in the south and east, and Rochdi said the United Nations had had to act as a government to keep basic services running. Part of her job was identifying areas that were now stable enough to hand over to local officials, so U.N. staff could be freed up for more urgent work.

People uprooted in CAR include 620,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) and 570,000 refugees in neighboring countries, mostly in Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Chad.

In some areas, security was improving, allowing displaced people to come home and aid workers to get unaccustomed access.

But in other areas, attacks on IDP sites was putting things “back to square one”, Rochdi said.

IDP camps at Batangafo in the northwest and Alindao in the south had been torched, obliterating years of work and leaving tens of thousands of people with absolutely nothing.

Rochdi said that although the residents of both camps were Christian, it was simplistic to see it as Muslim-on-Christian violence, since Muslim and Christian militias were involved in both attacks.

Ordinary people never talked about hating Christians or Muslims, and just wanted to live in peace, but the armed groups often justify their actions as vengeance for killings of particular groups, producing an endless spiral of violence.

Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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