CAR: UN food agency to assist vulnerable groups in recaptured towns

BANGUI, 27 February (IRIN) - The UN World Food Programme (WFP) representative in the Central African Republic (CAR), David Bulman, said on Wednesday that next week the agency would send food aid to two northeastern towns for hundreds of malnourished children and pregnant and lactating women.

"We will send this food out to Sibut and Damara and get it to the most vulnerable groups," he told IRIN in the capital, Bangui.

Bulman and officials of seven other UN agencies, humanitarian NGOs and the government toured both towns to assess the humanitarian situation. Damara is 80 km northeast of Bangui and Sibut 184 km.

WFP would distribute vitamin- and protein-enriched food through Sibut's paediatric and maternal-infant health and nutritional centres, which were still operational despite shortages of food, drugs and clean water, Bulman said.

"We were told that 200 to 300 malnourished children were registered at Sibut's paediatrics each month," he said.

He added that each malnourished person would first receive a two-month-ration to enable him/her to recover normal nutritional status, and then get a 10-month ration. WFP, he added, would help pregnant women during the nine months of pregnancy and lactating mothers for six months after childbirth.

"Women who are nursing do not have enough milk to feed their children," Bulman said.

In Damara, retaken by government forces in January, WFP will use other methods to reach vulnerable groups, as the government facilities have not yet reopened. With 22,000 inhabitants, Sibut was held by the rebels loyal to the former army chief of staff, Gen Francois Bozize, from 29 October 2002 to 14 February 2003. During that period, the residents, most of whom had fled into the bush, received no assistance, as the area was inaccessible. As at Wednesday, two-thirds of the population had returned to their homes.

The tour to the two towns revealed that people were suffering from malaria, vomiting, diarrhoea, respiratory infections and malnutrition. Also, economic activity has slowed considerably as traffic along the Bangui-Sibut road has still not fully resumed, a situation that is hindering the delivery of basic commodities. There are still acute shortages of salt, sugar, kerosene, soap and other manufactured commodities.

Similar missions are to be conducted wherever security conditions allows.


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