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Worsening conditions amid deepening poverty

The precarious economic situation prevailing in the CAR since the civil strife of 1996-97 has led to deepening poverty and deteriorating living conditions at the household level, civil society and humanitarian sources have said.

Because each employed person supported about 20 family or community members, the rise in unemployment and the irregular payment of civil servants' salaries has meant that many have fallen into destitution, a humanitarian source in the capital, Bangui, told IRIN.

"Most families are down to eating one meal a day," another humanitarian source said, adding that a lack of variety in cassava-dependent diets was compounding nutritional problems, making people weak and more susceptible to disease.

Preliminary results of a recent UNICEF survey showed that over 79 percent of children under five years of age were anaemic, of which 23 percent had severe anemia. The study also revealed an increase in the prevalence of diarrhoeal diseases and a doubling over the past two years in the incidence of malaria among children.

Meanwhile, public health services were poorly equipped and plagued with staffing problems, sources said. Tough economic times were leading many people to resort to traditional medicines or self-treatment, and mortality rates were increasing, they added.

"There are at least 30 people a day being buried in just the official cemeteries of Bangui, whereas it was 16 to 20 people two years ago," one civil society representative told IRIN. "Living conditions in the city's neighbourhoods are deplorable and the situation in the interior of the country is even worse," the source added.

The CAR is ranked in the bottom 10 countries of the 174 that are included in the most recent UNDP Human Development Index. Of those countries in the low human development category, the CAR has registered the second slowest progress in human development between 1975 and 1997 (for 79 countries with available data).

About 63% of the country's population is estimated to be living in poverty, according to government figures. Only 45 percent of the population has adequate access to basic health care, while 87 percent of the rural population has no access to potable water. Chronic malnutrition affects about one quarter of children under five years of age, and the maternal mortality rate in 1998 was estimated at 948 per 100,000 births.

In response to widespread food insecurity in the country, WFP has recently approved a US $7.3 million project that will provide food assistance to some 260,000 people over the next four years. A WFP report said the project's beneficiaries will include primary school pupils in rural areas, malnourished children in nutritional rehabilitation centres and participants in adult literacy programmes.

Catherine Sappot of the Association des Femmes Juristes de Centrafrique told IRIN recently that the situation had deteriorated over the past year because the government, the international community and donors have placed priority on preparing for the 1998 legislative elections and the 12 September presidential polls.

The poor economic situation has also created "dramatic" problems in the education sector, with the widespread hiring of underqualified teachers and rising numbers of out-of-school children, Sappot said. As many families could no longer afford to pay 250 francs (CFA) in monthly school fees for each child, parents were forced to choose which of their children to educate "and generally they choose boys," a trend that has aggravated gender disparities in education, she said.

"Some say there are no human rights violations in the country because there are no political prisoners. But children here are being deprived of their right to education and a decent life," Sappot told IRIN.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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