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Malnutrition Crisis in Chad Threatens Thousands of Young Lives

An interview with ACF's Country Director on the humanitarian situation
REUTERS/Antony Njuguna, courtesy www.alertnet.org

Country Director Jean-François Carémel discusses the malnutrition crisis in the Bahr el Ghazal region of western Chad, where Action Against Hunger’s recent surveys show the severe malnutrition rate for children under five at 27 percent—almost double the emergency threshold set by the World Health Organization.

What is the current situation in the region?

Our studies confirm that there are severe food shortages in Bahr el Ghazal, an area of western Chad where Action Against Hunger has been working. A number of indicators are quite troubling: grain production has fallen by 34 percent, leading to a severe shortage of animal feed. The price of millet is on average 25 percent higher than a few years ago, and the price of imported grains has risen too. In practical terms this means that the nomadic population has little feed to sustain their animals, and families are struggling to access food because prices have risen dramatically.

What effect does heightened food insecurity have on the population?

The consequences are worrying to say the least: an estimated two million people are suffering from food insecurity, and 100,000 children are at risk of severe malnutrition. Without treatment, these children are at imminent risk of dying. In preparation for a prolonged “hunger gap”—the period of scarcity between harvests—families are forced to resort to harsh coping strategies such as selling off their productive assets and reducing the quantity and quality of meals. Many fathers have no choice but to leave their families behind to look for work in larger towns, and many herders migrate in search of greener pastures.

We’re already seeing increased competition among the population over access to scarce resources like land and water. And with the onset of the rainy season, we are expecting an outbreak of illnesses like malaria and diarrhea, which will also lead to an increase in malnutrition among children, who are most vulnerable.

What is Action Against Hunger doing to address this crisis?

In Bahr el Ghazal, we’ve launched an emergency intervention to prevent and treat malnutrition in young children and are working in close collaboration with communities to limit the effects of the crisis.

Malnutrition is often overlooked despite being a life-threatening condition, so we’re building the capacity of local health centers to treat the condition. Over the next few months, we aim to treat 13,000 malnourished children in the region. The needs are immense, and since we’re the only organization working in this particular area, our work becomes that much more critical.

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