Despite big challenges, “we’re not giving up hope on C.A.R.”
Proliferating armed groups and half a population facing hunger are hardly grounds for optimism, but CD Gian Carlo Cirri is determined.
How would you describe the humanitarian situation in the Central African Republic (C.A.R.)?
It’s extremely worrying; few people realise that we are dealing with the third largest humanitarian crisis in the world — after Yemen and Syria — if you consider the proportion of the total population who need humanitarian assistance. I’ve just received the results of the National Food Security Assessment (ENSA) which show 2.1 million people (nearly half of the 4.5 million people living in the country) are facing severe hunger. The most affected are the internally displaced people (IDPs) in camps and vulnerable host families. People can’t get to their fields because of insecurity and displacements. This means they can’t grow their food or carry out livelihoods activities — so they need food assistance.
Last December’s SMART* survey shows levels of chronic malnutrition above the WHO emergency threshold in most prefectures. The global acute malnutrition (GAM) among children aged 6 to 59 months is 7.1 percent nationally. The severe acute malnutrition (SAM) exceeds the 2 percent emergency threshold at national level — in 10 out of 16 prefectures.
Unless the humanitarian community and donors step up, we have a looming humanitarian catastrophe on our hands. It’s a consequence of the proliferation of mulitple armed groups with different agendas, including the control of mineral resources and/or strategic geographical areas.
How is the humanitarian community and WFP responding?
We and our partners are working tirelessly — focusing all our resources and capacities on life-saving interventions to preserve food and nutrition security. Our monthly caseload is around 800,000 beneficiaries; we are doing our utmost to reach them through general food distribution linked to blanket and targeted supplementary feeding to vulnerable internally displaced, returnees, refugees and the host population. We also provide cash-based transfers whenever possible, using the SCOPE platform which we successfully piloted in Bangui. We have an emergency school feeding programme as well as some resilience activities including food for assets and P4P in some localized prefectures, where security permits. As with many emergencies around the world, WFP maintains the crucial Logistics, UNHAS and ETC services for the humanitarian community. But, frankly, we’re focused on emergency activities in C.A.R.
What are your main challenges?
Humanitarian access remains difficult due to the highly dynamic and volatile security situation. Access to remote and insecure areas is limited and military escorts are required all too often. The capacity of the UN blue helmets (MINUSCA) is overstretched, partly because of the continuous expansion of the conflict which we have noticed (in the last 5–6 months) is spreading to new areas. The road infrastructure and logistics capacity across C.A.R. (trucks) are very limited. In addition, we lack cooperating partners in some of the new crisis areas because of the direct targeting of aid workers and their property.
We also have serious pipeline difficulties. Besides the funding gap, it’s difficult to maintain a predictable regional supply, and sourcing, of food commodities, particularly cereals. C.A.R. is a landlocked country and we rely heavily on the port in neighbouring Cameroon. Regional transporters, from Cameroon into C.A.R. have limited reach, so direct deliveries into key locations are hampered. We also have to comply with some restrictive customs procedures, which lengthen the time it takes to get food into the country.
The situation appears dire — is there anything to be optimistic about?
In WFP we are famed for overcoming challenges and getting much-needed assistance to those furthest behind. We are strengthening our own logistics, reinforcing our presence in remote hard-to-reach areas, and we have an access strategy that we are gradually operationalizing.
I believe the latest peace agreement, signed between 14 non-state armed groups and the Government, will ease tension in the country and increase our access.
So, is the peace agreement putting some light at the end of the tunnel?
I hope so! I am optimistic the agreement signed under the auspices of the African Union with the support of the UN, will pave the way to ending the devastating violence in the country. I hope, as mentioned by the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, that all parties will “live up to their commitments” for the sake of their own people.
Given your optimism, will WFP change its strategic direction in the country?
I am cautiously optimistic; I still want to believe this agreement will work. This means an intelligent and careful switch in our current operations. We are prepared to increase our resilience and livelihoods building activities as per our Interim Country Strategic Plan … if the agreement holds.
*SMART: Standardized Monitoring and Assessment of Relief and Transitions (a nutrition survey)
SMART, an inter-agency initiative launched in 2002, advocates a multi-partner, systematized approach to provide critical, reliable information for decision-making, and to establish shared systems and resources for host government partners and humanitarian organizations.