Sahel Update: Malnutrition Rising in Chad

Chad Food Crisis: Drawing water from the well
Woman draws water from a well in Chad; Credit

New numbers from a UNICEF Standardized Monitoring and Assessment of Relief and Transitions survey in 11 regions in Chad show that malnutrition is getting worse. Acute malnutrition rates fell between 12.6% and 24.9% with 9 regions exceeding the WHO’s 15% emergency threshold. That is up from four regions past the emergency threshold in 2011.

The World Food Programme estimates that 1.8 million people are food insecure in the nine regions of Chad that are a part of the Sahel belt. Actors in the region are working to address the growing need, but funding still remains short.  The response is short $246 million of the needed $572 million to respond to the crisis. The coming rainy season will likely make matters worse for the roughly 500,000 people displaced by the crisis. Humanitarian organizations are starting to prepare for a potential cholera epidemic.

The response needs to be comprehensive, says Michel-Olivier Lacharité, MSF’s programme manager in Chad. “In addition to emergency operations for dealing with particularly serious situations, malnutrition prevention and treatment should be offered all year round and be an integral part of basic care for children, like routine immunization,” he explains.

The size and geography of Chad makes it a country that has high potential and is challenging in terms of mounting a humanitarian response. “It is challenging to get food assistance into Chad,” explained Jean-Martin Bauer, the Food Security Monitoring Systems leader at the UN World Food Programme. “We have to either ship it to Cameroon and then then import via truck from there or ship it through Sudan and drive it through Darfur into Chad.”

Chad’s south is a relatively fertile area for food production, but the north is largely unable to produce its own food. Poor infrastructure makes it hard to bring food into the region, as evidenced by the way that WFP has to supply food aid. A decline in crops in the south due to the drought left the north vulnerable.

Chad’s food prices and markets are significantly affected by neighboring countries, said Bauer. The majority of grain production takes place in Nigeria who is in the midst of dealing with Boko Haram in the north. As a result, borders were closed off to Niger and Chad thus restricting trade in and out of Nigeria.

Another factor are the high prices in Darfur. With no ability to trade with Nigeria, poor access to the north and rising food prices in Darfur, the southern farmers have turned towards Darfur for trade given that it maximizes the opportunity to make more off crops.

WFP is working closely with the government in Chad to address the crisis at hand and put in place structures that prevent another crisis. “There needs to be a strong system that brings together donors and government. We know it’s coming back. Let’s put a system in place that avoids us from being surprised,” said Bauer.

Cash transfers have turned out to be one of the new solutions being piloted across the Sahel with the hope that it can stimulate local markets and provide people with the ability to purchase goods for themselves. WFP is running a small program in Mauritania and Oxfam is doing the same in Chad.

43,900 people in 47 targeted villages of the Sila region are participating in a food voucher program that runs from June through September. Each household will receive monthly vouchers worth 15,000 FCFA, the estimated amount needed to cover food costs for the month.

“Cash transfers aim to lessen severe food insecurity by facilitating the access of poor and very poor households to food. The exceptional thing about cash transfer is that the choice of beneficiarie is actually taken into account to follow their eating habits, thus preserving to some extent their dignity despite humanitarian assistance” explains Christian Munezero, head of humanitarian programs for Oxfam in Chad.

The program will take on a second phase in October/November where the same participants will receive the same amount in food vouchers as before. The goal is to encourage people to build up food stocks that can last through the 2013 hunger season.

Correction: We have updated the amount of money still needed to fund the Chad response from $269 million to $246 million based on the most up to date numbers from the OCHA Financial Tracking System.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.