updated 3/17/2004 4:55:31 PM ET 2004-03-17T21:55:31

Central African Republic faces a “humanitarian catastrophe” caused by political instability and a collapsing health service unless nations meet a U.N. appeal for nearly $17 million in aid, an envoy for the world body said Wednesday.

So far, the United Nations has collected just $700,000 of the $16.8 million it asked for in November, said Ramiro Lopes da Silva, a special envoy for the troubled nation. That shows a “lack of serious engagement by the international community,” he said.

The money is needed to battle HIV/AIDS, malaria, cholera, measles and meningitis and to tackle malnutrition, which affects at least 14 percent of the nation’s children, he said.

“With the current situation in the Central African Republic, this is our last opportunity before real anarchy and a humanitarian catastrophe,” Lopes da Silva said.

Turbulent history
Central African Republic is rich in gold, diamonds and uranium, but 95 percent of the country’s 3.6 million people live on less than $1 a day.

Since gaining independence from France in 1960, the country has been one of the most turbulent in Africa, with numerous coups and uprisings. Current President Francois Bozize led an army of insurgents that took the capital, Bangui, last year, toppling the elected Ange-Felix Patasse.

Fighting before then prompted tens of thousands of refugees to flee into neighboring Chad.

“Unless we take steps to provide a little bit of normality ... people will start moving again,” Lopes da Silva said.

Lopes da Silva also said the number of international peacekeepers in Central African Republic should be tripled and the force deployed nationwide. The Economic and Monetary Community of Central African States currently has 350 soldiers based in Bangui.

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