(Bonn, 11/03/2014) Welthungerhilfe has committed to provide long-term assistance to people suffering from hunger in the Central African Republic. Staff will start to implement the first required aid measures before the imminent rainy season. "We have to act quickly to address the humanitarian crisis in Central Africa. At the same time, the people in that region are also rightly demanding assistance that goes beyond disaster aid. And that is exactly what we want to ensure together with our partners," explains Mathias Mogge, Welthungerhilfe's Executive Director for Programmes.
The Central African Republic is one of the world's poorest countries, with a "very serious" food situation according to the Global Hunger Index. Even before the conflict in Bangui in December of last year, approximately 1.3 million people were already suffering from hunger. Now the critical food situation affects almost the entire population in the rural regions of Central Africa. Many farmers are no longer able to cultivate their fields due to the security situation.
"The situation will get even worse with the start of rainy season at the end of March," estimates Welthungerhilfe employee Rüdiger Ehrler, who is already on his way to Bangui. "Then it will be virtually impossible to reach many people in the rural areas."
On location, Welthungerhilfe will work with international partners such as the French aid agency ACTED. Together with seven other organisations, they form the European network Alliance2015 (www.alliance2015.org).
Welthungerhilfe is one of Germany's largest private aid agencies. It offers integrated aid from rapid disaster aid and reconstruction to long-term development co-operation projects with local partner organisations according to the principle of help towards self-help. Since we were founded in 1962, we have provided 2.52 billion euros worth of funding for more than 7,100 projects in 70 countries – for a world without hunger and poverty.
Violence and suffering
Why is the crisis escalating in the Central African Republic
by Bettina Rühl
The dull sound of bashing can be heard from a half-demolished house - this is the work of pillagers. "This house used to belong to a Muslim," a young man roisters. A week ago, the owner was hacked to death by a crowd with machetes in the Central African capital city of Bangui - accompanied by the jeers of watching crowds. According to information from the Central African Red Cross, there are about a dozen murders in Bangui every day.
The crisis began in March 2013, with a coup by the mainly Muslim rebel coalition "Séléka" (Alliance) against then President François Bozizé, a Christian. The violent grab for power accelerated the demise of the Central African state that has existed in name only in years. The rebels committed and still commit serious war crimes against the mostly Christian population, which then formed its own armed groups. Militias, deserters of the army and bandits joined under the name "Anti-Balaka" (Against the Machetes) and have been committing horrible crimes against Muslims. The UN estimates that 2,000 people have already died since the beginning of the crisis. And that number increases every day. The mob is unleashed, and horrible lynchings are becoming an almost daily occurrence in Bangui.
The 8,000 soldiers of a French and African deployment force are unable to fulfil their task of protecting the population. As a minority, it is mainly Muslims that are now the victims. Ten thousand have already fled to neighbouring countries. "What is happening here is shocking, disturbing, terrible," said Abdou Dieng, UN Coordinator of aid activities for the Central African Republic, as far back as the end of January. Since then, the situation has only deteriorated. "The government no longer exists; people are left to their own devices. They have nothing to eat, no access to medical help and no clean drinking water."
According to UN information, more than 900,000 people are fleeing the region, and almost half of the 4.6 million inhabitants need help. When rainy season starts at the end of March, the already critical situation of those displaced in their temporary shelters will get much worse. And if the farmers are not able to prepare their fields at the beginning of the rainy period as a result of the crisis, then there will not be a harvest. Hunger is the logical outcome of this situation.
The suffering exacerbates conflicts
Muslims and Christians used to live together more or less peacefully, although resentment has been simmering under the surface for a long time. About 80 percent of the Central African population are Christians or Animists, with 10 to 15 percent Muslims. Most Muslims belong to the people of the Peul and live in the rural regions as shepherds, while most Christians are farmers - they are competing for water and soil. Because of increasing population density, these conflicts are increasingly fought with arms, and they frequently take on a religious tone.
In recent years, the fight over scarce resources has only been exacerbated by climate change. Due to the increasing incidence of dry spells in the Chad, more and more shepherds from that country moved their large herds southwards, into the Central African Republic. In the cities, most Muslims were traders, and frequently quite successful in business. This fuelled feelings of social envy and jealousy.
Christian President François Bozizé, who was overthrown by the Séléka rebels in March 2013, only added fuel to the fire: many of his speeches were extremely anti-Muslim particularly in the year before his fall. Social competition is increased by the failure of the Central African government, a process that already began decades ago. Rural areas were completely neglected, other than the home regions of the respective president. Educational and work opportunities are non-existent in the rural areas and in the capital.
Some pillagers in the ruins are pulling out floor tiles, while others are destroying the last roof beams. "When I see a Muslim, I will kill him," says one. An eleven-year old boy with the squeaky voice of a child assures me that he too wants to kill all Muslims. "They are bad people." He is armed with a miniature axe and enough propaganda in the brain for the coming years.
Journalist Bettina Rühl is an Africa correspondent and lives in Nairobi.