A French peacekeeper standing guard in the village of Boda, a Muslim community surrounded by Christian militia forces (Photo: MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)
Chances are, you've recently come across stories about the genocide in Rwanda, which started 20 years ago today.
But the conflict in Central African Republic may not have popped up on your radar too often of late — and a new report [PDF] from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Programme is painting a bleak picture of the humanitarian situation in the country.
Some startling facts:
- 1.6 million people in the country are in need of urgent food — twice the number estimated in February, 2013
- in 2013, the country's agricultural sector contracted by 36.9 per cent, and the GDP fell 28.3 per cent
- more than 800,000 people — 18 per cent of the country — have been displaced because of the conflict, which meant that land preparation and crop planting was disrupted
- even before the conflict started, child malnutrition was a pressing concern — almost half of the children in CAR are stunted because of it
- in the next few weeks, the rainy season will make many roads impassable, and make it difficult to distribute aid
The former French colony has been descending into chaos since March of 2013, when a mostly Muslim rebel coalition called Séléka took power and installed rebel leader Michel Djotodia as president of the country. That set off a wave of killing and revenge attacks by Christian militia groups known as "anti-balaka." In January, Djotidia resigned due to pressure from regional powers, causing many Seleka to flee the capital of Bangui and return to other regions or leave the country altogether. Indeed, hundreds of thousands have now fled to Cameroon, Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“There is a hole in the heart of Africa. Every day, I wake up thinking about your trials and troubles," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on a recent trip to the country. "Some say this is a forgotten crisis. I am here to help make sure the world does not forget.”
There are about 8,000 peacekeeping troops on the ground in the country from France and the African Union, although Ban said they were being overwhelmed by the "state of anarchy" in the country. Chad announced it would begin pulling its troops due to the intense violence, and Ban has asked the UN Security Council to approve an additional 12,000-member peacekeeping force. “The international community failed the people of Rwanda 20 years ago, and we are at risk of not doing enough for the people of CAR today,” he said.
In the Toronto Star on Saturday, Michelle Shephard told the story of several citizens of CAR who have become embroiled in the country's violence, and the growing split between Muslims and Christians in a country whose divisions were previously along ethnic rather than religious lines.
This March, the Government of Canada announced it would contribute $11 million in aid to CAR, in addition to a previous commitment of $5 million in February (in 2013, we spent $7 million).
You can also do your part to help bring food to the 1.6 million people in CAR who need it. The World Food Programme (for which George is an Ambassador Against Hunger) says that $77 million are needed to continue to provide assistance in the country. And any donation you make online now will be doubled by US investor and philanthropist Howard Buffett. Click here to help.