Nutrition Emergency Declared in Central African Republic

ACF uncovers alarming rates of acute malnutrition in southern region.

The number of children suffering from acute malnutrition in the southern Berbérati region of the Central African Republic (CAR) far exceeds the United Nations’ emergency threshold for severe acute malnutrition, according to a study carried out by Action Against Hunger | ACF International. The international humanitarian organization responded last week by launching an emergency program in Berbérati to treat the 1,100 children diagnosed with life-threatening severe acute malnutrition and contain the crisis.

Action Against Hunger’s nutrition assessment revealed that 7% of children in Berbérati suffer from severe acute malnutrition, which is well above the World Health Organization’s emergency threshold of 2%.

Underlying Causes

Mining and commercial activities in Berbérati have experienced a sudden slowdown over the last several months, resulting in a significant socio-economic decline. Despite conditions that favor agriculture, the region’s economy revolves around the mining industry, to such an extent that the population imports most of its food from other areas of the country. This lack of local agricultural production, combined with the recent loss of income and a spike in international food prices, has led to a severe food shortage in the area.

ACF's Emergency Response

Berbérati possesses little in the way of public health infrastructure—including trained hospital staff and sufficient quantities of therapeutic nutritional products—to successfully prevent and treat childhood malnutrition. Action Against Hunger is working to set up a Stabilization Center in the local hospital to treat the most serious malnutrition cases; the organization will also open four outpatient treatment units in regional health centers for follow-up care. ACF’s emergency program includes training for local doctors and nurses on the detection, prevention, and treatment of malnutrition.

As part of an awareness-raising campaign targeting more than 6,500 individuals, ACF’s staff will conduct home visits, teach classes, and broadcast public service announcements about malnutrition over the radio.

The Central African Republic: A Forgotten Country

The Central African Republic is one of the poorest countries in the world: it ranks 178 out of 179 on the UNDP Human Development Index, and average life expectancy stands at less than 40 years. More than half the population subsists on one meal per day or fewer. The country, enclosed in a highly unstable region, has faced a succession of political and military crises.

Compared to neighboring countries like Sudan, the Central African Republic has received relatively little international attention. Its nutritional sector in particular has been neglected by donors. Action Against Hunger has worked in the country’s north-western regions of Bangui and Bossangoa since 2006.