UNITED NATIONS, March 21 (Xinhua) -- The UN food agency said Friday that the exodus of almost 300,000 people from the Central African Republic (CAR) is creating a regional crisis in neighboring countries which are already short of food.
Ertharin Cousin, executive director of the World Food Program ( WFP), said while the international community urgently needs to step up and address the disaster in the CAR, support is also required for the regional refugee crisis.
Cousin just finished a visit to the CAR's northwestern town of Bossangoa.
"WFP says that Cameroon, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Republic of Congo, which are hosting refugees, are themselves confronted with food insecurity and pockets of malnutrition," deputy UN spokesman Farhan Haq said here at a daily news briefing.
"The influx of refugees significantly increases pressure on the host communities and governments, as well as on WFP operations which are severely under-funded," he said.
Thousands of people are believed to have been killed, and 2.2 million, about half the population of CAR, need humanitarian aid as a result of the conflict that began in December 2012, when mainly Muslim Seleka rebels launched attacks.
More than 650,000 people are still internally displaced, and over 290,000 have fled to neighboring countries in search of refuge from the conflict, which has taken on increasingly sectarian overtones as mainly Christian militias known as anti- Balaka (anti-machete) have taken up arms.
So far this year, despite immense logistical and security challenges, the WFP has provided food to more than 250,000 people per month in the CAR, including specialized nutritious foods to help prevent malnutrition among children.
But the scale of the disaster requires deeper engagement from the international community, the agency stressed. In the coming weeks most roads will become impassable with the rainy season. The rains will also increase the risk of diarrhea and illness for tens of thousands of displaced people in unsanitary, makeshift camps.
With only 35 percent of funding secured for its CAR emergency operation through August, the WFP has been unable to pre-position stocks required for life-saving assistance during the rains and the annual lean season when food from the last harvest runs out.
The UN agency said insecurity along the road corridor from Cameroon to Bangui, capital of the CAR, forced the WFP to airlift 1,800 metric tons of rice. With the escort of the African-led peacekeeping mission, known as the MISCA, the flow of food supplies by road has resumed but may be interrupted should security deteriorate.
"Security is the major concern. The international community must step up to help the government of CAR end violence," Cousin said, adding that humanitarian access is a priority.
The WFP also warned that it is facing a funding shortage that may force it to disrupt food assistance to CAR refugees in Chad and the DRC if new contributions are not received.