Chad: malnutrition persists despite good harvest

19 December, 2012
Saïdi Kizeme (left) is Djiddé Zakaria's mother and grandmother to 10-month-old Ahmat who was admitted to the Biltine Therapeutic Nutrition Centre after he became critically ill. Credit: OCHA/Pierre Peron
Saïdi Kizeme (left) is Djiddé Zakaria's mother and grandmother to 10-month-old Ahmat who was admitted to the Biltine Therapeutic Nutrition Centre after he became critically ill. Credit: OCHA/Pierre Peron

Chad received plenty of rain in the second half of 2012 and harvests were double the average amount, raising expectations for easier times ahead. But according to UNICEF forecasts, roughly the same number of children will suffer from severe acute malnutrition in 2013 as in 2012.  

The reasons for this are complex. Households accumulated significant debts during the lean season in 2012, meaning that poorer families will have to sell most of their production immediately after harvesting it.

According to Jane Lewis from the European Commission’s humanitarian branch ECHO, this means people will continue to struggle to pay high food prices.

“For poor households, food security is not primarily dependent on food production but on market prices,” said Ms. Lewis. “Beyond debts and structural food production deficits, we can expect that a large portion of the population will need emergency assistance during the lean season in 2013.”

David Gressly, Regional Humanitarian Coordinator, said there was still much work to be done to help communities to rebuild after the 2012 food crisis.

“This means restocking livestock and making sure they have the right seeds to re-establish their livelihoods,” noted Mr. Gressly. “Social safety nets will be an important aspect of ensuring that everybody has good access to food. This is the time to tackle the chronic structural problems that we see across the Sahel.”

Experts warn that even if people get better access to food, high malnutrition rates will persist if other key sectors aren’t also addressed. Less than half of people in Chad have access to clean water and just 3 per cent of women practice exclusive breast-feeding. That means that most Chadian infants regularly drink dirty water, causing recurrent diarrhea, which in turn leads to malnutrition. Healthcare provision is inadequate to help children when they get sick.

While the food security sector of the Consolidated Appeal for Chad in 2012 was well-funded at 97 per cent and nutrition at 87 per cent, water and sanitation was only funded at 36 per cent and health at 24 per cent. Until those figures become more balanced, aid agencies warn that communities in Chad will continue to be vulnerable to recurrent droughts and chronic malnutrition will continue.

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