BANGUI, 22 February 2013 (IRIN) - Humanitarian agencies are warning of a looming food crisis in parts of the Central African Republic (CAR), a result of the insecurity that has displaced thousands of people and disrupted cultivation and trade.
Clashes between government and rebel forces in December and early January left some parts of CAR - and an estimated 800,000 people - under the control of the rebel Séléka coalition.
"Between July and September, there will be serious food shortages in the most affected areas. So the first priority is to restart programmes that have been disrupted in these areas," Jean Martin Bauer, an analyst with the UN World Food Programme (WFP), said.
Food prices are increasing, according to the findings of a recent assessment by WFP and its partners.
"Since December 2012, trade has been interrupted between the area held by the Séléka coalition and the rest of the country, bringing transactions to a halt and leading to sharp price increases. The cost of a food basket has increased by 40 percent in the area under the control of the Central African armed forces. Some of the zones under the control of the Séléka are experiencing food deficits due to price increases," stated a 15 February statement by WFP.
Humanitarian officials expressed concern over the upcoming cropping season. "We are very concerned about prospect for the 2013 growing season, which is due to start in just a few weeks. Land preparation, which should have begun, is behind schedule in many places due to insecurity," said Rockaya Fall, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) representative in CAR.
The disruption of trade has caused income sources to decline, adds the statement: "The marketing season of the annual cotton crop, a lifeline for the northern part of the country, has yet to start in the Séléka zone, depriving farmers [of] their main income source."
An estimated 80,538 people in the Séléka zone are at risk of food insecurity in the May-September lean season.
The situation in CAR remains unpredictable despite an 11 January ceasefire, added a report released by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on 18 February, which noted that a lack of humanitarian access due to insecurity, especially in the east, and poor roads are hindering the provision of assistance.
Aid officials are calling for access to Séléka-held areas.
"The main problem is to open a humanitarian corridor in the Séléka-held areas. Once free to move, we will be able to bring the affected population together so as to provide the necessary assistance," said Kaarina Immonen, the UN deputy special representative for CAR.
Other main humanitarian needs include healthcare and education.
"We must go to those who are suffering. But first we would like to know and to understand the health situation on the ground before we respond to the needs of the population in the areas of conflict," said Honorat Ouilibona-Cockciss, the chief of staff in the ministry of health.
The number of patients seeking medical care is on the rise. In the area of Damara, 75km from the capital Bangui, for example, health centres are recording up to 200 consultations each day despite inadequate staff.
Almost all of the schools in the Séléka-held areas have been closed, with at least 166,000 children out of school, according to OCHA. Some teachers have also fled, according to Henry Sylvain Yakara, a national humanitarian affairs officer with OCHA.
The Séléka-rebels also destroyed some school facilities and were using some schools buildings as their bases, added Yakara.
Despite the 11 January peace accord, and the later formation of a government of national unity integrating the Séléka rebels, attacks are continuing.
In early February, for example, 2,300 people fled the southeastern CAR region of Mobaye for the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) area of Mobayi-Mbongo after a Séléka attack. Some 4,500 people had previously fled to DRC in the past weeks, with hundreds of others seeking refuge in Chad.
The Séléka rebels comprise militias from the Union des forces démocratiques pour le rassemblement (UFDR), the Convention Patriotique pour le Salut Wa Kodro (CSPK) and Convention des patriotes pour la justice et la paix (CPJP), who were seeking to overthrow the CAR government.