C.A.R.: Experts Start Mapping Families' Access To Food

Twelve months after the last such survey, a nationwide assessment is about to get underway in Central African Republic to measure how 'food secure' families now are. The Emergency Food Security Assessment is being carried out by WFP, C.A.R. authorities and NGO partners so they can see how to respond better to the needs of the population.

BANGUI -- In the little village of Yombo, 25 km south of Bangui, the arrival of a convoy of several cars and a bus is a source of excitement for the rural community. Although the capital of Central African Republic is just an hour away, it feels very isolated. There is no electricity and no mobile phone network – unless you want to climb up a hill where you can sometimes catch a signal.

Yombo is one of the villages where WFP and its partners – NGOs and the government -- are finalizing details of the Emergency Food Security Assessment, which will be conducted throughout C.A.R. in the coming weeks. Randomly chosen heads of households are sitting down for about an hour with the WFP team, answering questions not only about what the family eats, but also how they make a living, what the household’s expenses are, and how they access healthcare and education.

The 2014 survey is being conducted using handheld, touchscreen devices. The interviewers fill out a questionnaire on their devices and then send it to a server in Bangui. This new procedure is faster and safer – no lost papers, and no mistakes in putting together the inputs.

“It is crucial for us to be able to get a clear picture of the food security situation,” Jean-Martin Bauer, Senior Food Security Analyst, explains. “This assessment will help WFP and partners to be more precise and more efficient when reaching out to the people in need.”

The plan is to dispatch the interviewers to all the prefectures of the country, and then organize them to visit a selection of villages and displaced persons camps. 

This is not easy. Even before the crisis started, the Central African Republic was a logistical nightmare, with very few, poorly maintained roads, especially at the end of the rainy season. For the past year, the persisting insecurity has also been a major challenge for the humanitarian community. There are remote, very insecure regions within C.A.R. where nobody can go, and therefore no one knows exactly what the situation is.

The last assessment was conducted in October 2013. At that time, insecurity had already disrupted the country and an estimated 62% of the population lived below the poverty line. One year ago, over 1.1 million people – one third of the country’s population—were classified as moderately or severely food insecure. Now, after months of escalating violence and people fleeingtheir homes, WFP needs to assess the situation again.

Although complicated by the rainy season, the survey has to be conducted in September - October. It's the harvest period in the Central African Republic.  It is the time that people can assess what they have and what they will rely on to put food on the table for the rest of the year.