Act Now to Stop Mass Starvation in Central African Republic

Ertharin Cousin, director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), is urging the world to help the starving people of the Central African Republic.

Speaking from the war-torn country she warns, "We must not wait until pictures of skeletal, severely underweight, children document our failure and neglect."

For what Cousin and her staff are witnessing is a humanitarian tragedy. They know it will get much worse unless the world listens to the cries for help.

WFP, which relies on voluntary funding, has received so little in donations that it has not been able to preposition food for the rainy season. This is the time of year when roads are washed out and food supplies cannot move.

The UN food agency is taking on a dangerous hunger relief mission. Fighting by rebel groups has plunged the country into chaos. Over one million people need life-saving food and other aid. High malnutrition levels are being reported among both adults and children.

For children, the malnutrition causes severe lasting physical and mental damage or even death. Special foods like Plumpy'Sup are being given to children. However, thousands are trapped by fighting and cannot be reached.

A WFP report said that some 15,000 people in the western part of the country "are isolated, surrounded by armed groups and at high risk of attack." Levels of malnutrition are expected to be severe in these areas, based on the findings of people they have been able to reach.

An even more horrifying prospect is that the crisis will get much worse. The violence has ruined farmland and people have lost their livelihoods. The UN is rushing to not only provide food, but also seeds to farmers.

Cousin said today at one of the distributions, "If we miss the planting season, starting in April, the families will have no harvests because they have run out of food. We must provide food, so that families are not forced to eat the seeds to survive."

With less than half of the required funding, WFP is simply not able to carry out its distributions in the country, even if conditions were safe.

The United Nations can deploy a larger peacekeeping force to establish some security for civilians and the humanitarian missions.

Earlier this month Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous said current UN forces are not sufficient. He said,

Addressing the crisis in the Central African Republic requires a unified and integrated approach, through the deployment of a multidimensional peacekeeping operation, with the protection of civilians as its utmost priority.

Additional peacekeepers would allow more aid to travel on the roads to reach more parts of the country.

More security and more funding are two things that can avert starvation for the people of Central African Republic. The world can act before it's too late. Time is fast running out.

WFP has set up a relief fund for the Central African Republic.