Editor’s Note: Kevin Clarke, senior editor and chief correspondent for America magazine, is reporting from Central African Republic and is touring programs operated by Catholic Relief Services. His blog posts are being published by Catholic News Service under a special arrangement with the magazine. This post was filed May 8.
By Kevin Clarke
BOSSANGOA, Central African Republic — The truck lurches and weaves with every rut and gully — and there are many of them on the bush trail — in slow, but steady progress through to the outlying. The day before, two large lorries broke down repeatedly during the same exercise through these small villages that surround this northern Central African Republic city, and this morning an adroit mechanic cannibalized parts from a third vehicle to ensure that the others would make it into the bush and back again. The cargo it carries each patient kilometer, corn and peanut seed meant to salvage the growing season, is a precious, life-saving weight.
“We could be looking at a famine in the Central African Republic in August,” says Kyla Neilan, a program manager for Catholic Relief Services based in Bossangoa, a community hard-hit by the months of disorder and communal violence in the country. “It’s make or break this harvest season. If people have food to eat in August, they can start to recover. If people don’t have seeds in the ground now, and they have no crop in August … people will start to die.”
The church’s international relief and development agencies, Catholic Relief Service/Caritas, aim to get seed along with cultivation tools to as many as 10,000 families in the subsistence farming villages that surround Bossangoa. There is no small amount of haste to these efforts, and each day that a truck breaks down and reduces the reach of the relief agencies is a frustrating worry. They have to get seed and tools to all these families by the end of May. The rainy season has already begun; soon these hard, copper-colored trails will become essentially impassable, red mud that will leave truck wheels spinning futilely. By then it will be too late to sow.
The hunger is already upon these villagers. In nearby Bamzenbe, Doctors Without Borders is treating children suffering from acute malnutrition or opportunistic infections that their hungry bodies are too weak to resist, Neilan reports. People are languishing without the strength to plant crops or find work because of malnutrition.
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