Niger 'soldiers unload bags of food supply including sugar, rice, milk and tomatoe cans at Maradi airport Niger, 11 August 2005, as part of an aid programme given by Gabonese authorities and shipped through Libreville airport in Gabon by a C130 cargo plane from the French forces. The United Nations says that 2.5 million of Niger's 12 million people are suffering food shortages, including 32,000 children with severe malnutrition who face death without the necessary food and medical treatment. (Photo credit ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images)
The UN food agency on Wednesday was set to launch an airlift of emergency food supplies to the Central African Republic, though it admits it will not be enough to meet the desperate need in the crisis-hit nation.
The World Food Programme said it would fly a month's supply of food from Douala in Cameroon to the Central African capital of Bangui which would be enough for 150,000 people.
"This is a rather exceptional operation, our biggest emergency air operation in a long time, bigger that for Syria and the Philippines," WFP spokesman Alexis Masciarelli told AFP.
But he added that the operation "would not definitively solve the problem".
According to the United Nations, 1.3 million people, nearly a quarter of the population of the CAR, need immediate food aid, particularly in the camps of displaced people numbering more than 800,000 who have sought refuge there from the sectarian violence that has erupted in the country.
The first WFP cargo plane carrying 80 tonnes of rice is expected to arrive in Bangui on Wednesday morning. It will be followed by 24 daily rotations for a total of around 1,800 tonnes, according to the WFP.
The humanitarian situation in the CAR has deteriorated since a coup in March 2013 led by the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels plunged the country into chaos and led to an outbreak of sectarian attacks between the Muslim ex-rebels and Christian vigilantes.
Amnesty International on Wednesday reported that "ethnic cleansing" was being carried out against Muslim civilians in the majority Christian nation, and that international peacekeepers have been unable to stop it.
Amnesty said it had documented at least 200 killings of Muslim civilians by Christian militia groups.