CAR: Hungry crowds loot WFP warehouses

News and Press Release
Originally published
NAIROBI, 20 March (IRIN) - Hungry crowds in the Central African Republic (CAR) capital, Bangui, descended on warehouses belonging to the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and looted 1,800 mt of food following the 15 March coup by Francois Bozize, the UN agency reported on Wednesday.
"Eyewitnesses say it was as though half the population of the capital had converged on the warehouse complex," WFP reported. "It must have been like ants carrying away the food. They broke into one warehouse at a time and emptied each."

In a statement, David Bulman, the WFP country director in the CAR, said the head guard at the WFP warehouses managed to talk off some of the looters the first time they arrived, "but the second time he was completely overrun. The gate of the warehouse complex was broken and people rushed in".

Bulman added: "This is an extremely depressing development. While the warehouses were being looted, WFP in Central African Republic was in the throes of dealing with another security crisis, this time concerning personal safety. We took all the measures we could."

The director for the WFP Regional Office for Central Africa, Jeanne Boisclair, said: "This is a significant loss for World Food Programme operations in the country. Last week we renewed our appeal for the Central African Republic because of the desperate need in the country."

She said that the appeal had become "even more urgent" now and that the looted food was "equivalent to the amount" the agency normally spent on feeding children over eight months.

WFP cited UN estimates that, it said, showed that at least 200,000 people had been internally displaced in the CAR since an outbreak of fighting in October 2002 between insurgents and troops loyal to the government of Ange-Felix Patasse. Bozize, the former army chief of staff, ousted Patasse.

"The fragile security situation has also meant more people have fallen into poverty in a nation which has already been classified as a least developed, low-income, food-deficit country. Approximately 60 percent of CAR's population live below the poverty line," WFP reported.

It said that since the outbreak of unrest, farmers had been unable to plant crops, causing food shortages. The unstable security situation has also hampered trade along the main route between Bangui and Douala on Cameroon's east coast.

The WFP again launched its appeal for US $6.1 million last week. It said it had not received any money since making the original appeal for funds two months ago.

The World Food Programme said it was targeting aid to around 170,000 beneficiaries. These, it added, included 15,000 internally displaced people, 15,000 migrants who had returned to the country, 10,000 people with HIV/AIDS and approximately 22,000 women and children in mother and child health programmes.


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