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UN warns of ‘humanitarian emergency’ in C. Africa

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Geneva, Switzerland | AFP | 

Nearly half the population of strife-torn Central African Republic needs humanitarian assistance, the UN said Monday, appealing for $399 million from donors to cover the country’s aid needs next year.

UN humanitarian coordinator for Central Africa, Fabrizio Hochschild, told reporters that decades of chronic poverty, compounded by a long line of conflicts, had created a “humanitarian emergency” in one of the world’s poorest countries.

He and Central African Social Affairs Minister Virginie Baikoua were in Geneva Monday to appeal to donors to loosen their purse strings and provide $399 million (377 million euros) to help 1.6 million people across the country in 2017.

That amount comes on top of the $2.2 billion (2.0 billion euros) pledged by international donors earlier this month in Brussels towards the country’s five-year national recovery and stabilisation plan.

“If we want peace to return, we really need stability,” Baikoua told reporters, insisting that if you want stability, “you cannot forget the humanitarian aid element.”

Hochschild said that nearly half of the country is facing food insecurity, while 40 percent of children under three are chronically malnourished, which can lead to stunting.

“This is a place where one in five children will not live to see their fifth birthday,” he told reporters, calling for “sustained support” for the country.

“We also believe that it is a country that can be turned around and that has taken very important steps in that direction,” he said, referring to the country’s first democratically elected government, which came to power earlier this year.

The government is trying to bring together 14 armed groups under a disarmament deal to consolidate a fragile peace in the former French colony, where militias are flourishing in the power vacuum left by a weak state.

But Baikoua stressed that work to set up a special criminal court aimed at ending the widespread impunity was progressing and was expected to be completed by the first half of 2017.

The Central African Republic is struggling to emerge from a civil war which erupted in 2013 following the overthrow of former president Francois Bozize, a Christian, by Muslim rebels from the Seleka coalition.

The coup led to the formation of “anti-Balaka” vigilante units, drawn from the Christian majority, which began to target Muslims. Both sides committed widespread atrocities.

Militias are still flourishing given the weakness of the state and just last week clashes between rival armed groups left at least 16 people dead and displaced thousands of civilians.

Former colonial power France intervened in 2013 to stop violent Christian-Muslim clashes and formally ended its peacekeeping mission only last month, hailing it a success despite fresh outbreaks of violence.

That leaves mainly the UN’s 12,500-strong MINUSCA peacekeeping mission to protect civilians from armed groups.

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