21 January 2014

Central African Republic: U.N. Truckers' Strike Cuts Food Aid to Displaced in Central African Republic

Dakar — A strike by U.N. truck drivers in Cameroon, fearing for their safety because of the violence in neighbouring Central African Republic, is preventing vital food aid from reaching hundreds of thousands of displaced people in CAR, the U.N. World Food Programme said on Tuesday.

The main road between Cameroon and CAR is the lifeline for humanitarian operations, but WFP spokesman Alexis Masciarelli told Thomson Reuters Foundation that commercial and WFP truckers were striking - the second truckers' strike in six months - because they judged it too dangerous to enter CAR.

"Thirty-eight trucks are currently waiting at the border carrying some 900 tonnes of maize meal and 650 tonnes of rice, enough to feed 155,000 people for a full month," Masciarelli said by telephone from Bangui. "In Bangui, we only have enough food to reach 500 families for 10 days, but there are over 100,000 people displaced in the airport alone," he said.

CAR has become extremely unstable since the Seleka, made up of five rebel groups, overthrew the government in March last year and installed Michel Djotodia as president, CAR's first Muslim leader. Fresh violence has gripped the country since Djotodia stepped down and fled earlier this month, unable to control the Muslim Seleka and stop the fighting between it and local Christian militias set up to defend their districts.

The United Nations estimates that more than 1,000 people have been killed and over one million displaced by the tit-for-tat violence between Muslim Seleka fighters and Christian militias.

The WFP said in a press statement on Monday that its cereal stocks were almost exhausted, those of pulses would soon run out, and suspending food distribution could lead to further tension particularly among the 100,000 displaced people in the overcrowded Bangui airport camp.

"As a last resort, WFP is considering an airlift of food from Douala, Cameroon, to Bangui. But being forced to launch such an operation would substantially increase the cost of our emergency operation in CAR," Masciarelli said.

Airlifting aid into CAR costs around 30 percent more than taking it in by road, said UNICEF's Robert McCarthy, who was in a similar predicament when UNICEF's truckers went on strike in September last year amid security concerns about the Cameroon-CAR border and road.

Around 1.25 million people in CAR risk hunger because of displacement and the coming lean season, according to the WFP.

No new financial contributions have been secured since the WFP launched the emergency operation for CAR on January 1.

Catherine Samba-Panza, the former mayor of Bangui and newly elected as the country's first woman (interim) president,is expected to guide the country to elections within the year.

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