By Chris Arsenault
ROME (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A full-scale food crisis has been averted in Central African Republic following a bout of sectarian bloodletting, but unemployed young men will need jobs for peace to hold in the agriculture-dependent country, a U.N. official said on Thursday.
A "fragile situation" could again erupt into violence unless infrastructure is repaired after more than a year of violence which left more than 3,000 people dead, and domestic food production is improved, Jean-Alexandre Scaglia, the Food and Agriculture Organization’s representative in CAR, said.
"Right now people can eat, but malnutrition rates are extremely high, especially for children," Scaglia told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "There are still a lot of security fears, and this starts a vicious cycle for food production and the economy."
Many roads remain unsafe, so farmers are scared to bring their goods to market. The country is awash with weapons. Youth unemployment hovers around 80 percent and some young men have taken to banditry following ethnic and political violence.
CAR plunged into chaos when northern, mostly Muslim Seleka rebels seized control of the majority Christian country in March 2013, prompting a backlash by the largely Christian 'anti-balaka' militia.
The U.N. estimates 2.5 million people, half the population, need shelter, food and water, basic healthcare and education following fighting which erupted in December 2013.
Currently 120,000 households in the landlocked country are receiving aid from the FAO, and the organization hopes to raise that to 250,000 by the end of 2015, Scaglia said.
Foreign peacekeepers have been keeping a semblance of security in parts of the country, but some rural areas remain vulnerable.
CAR is rich in farmland and other natural resources, but the production of cash crops for export is down 80 percent from five years ago, Scaglia said.
The forestry sector has contracted by 90 percent, and cotton farming has been decimated, though much of the infrastructure could be repaired without huge infusions of cash, he said.
"Unless people can find work in the short term, in crops, forests, fishing or whatever, I don’t see national reconciliation,” the FAO official said.
Elections are set for summer, and the United Nations hopes a new government will take office by September.
(Reporting By Chris Arsenault; Editing by Tim Pearce)