Staggering Malnutrition Rates Uncovered in Chad

Action Against Hunger scales up response after nutrition emergency declared in western region
An ACF staff member measures a child's arm to determine whether he is malnourished, courtesy ACF-Chad

BAHR EL GHAZAL, CHAD—A nutrition survey conducted in Bahr el Ghazal, a vast semi-arid region of western Chad, reveals global acute malnutrition rates well above the emergency threshold designated by the World Health Organization (WHO), Action Against Hunger | ACF International announced today. In response, the international humanitarian group has launched a multi-pronged intervention to support an estimated 17,000 children with the deadly condition in the region.

Some 27% of children under five in Bahr el Ghazal are acutely malnourished, according to results of the Action Against Hunger assessment, nearly double the WHO’s emergency rate of 15%. An additional 5% of children in that age range have severe acute malnutrition, indicating that they are at immediate risk of starvation, according to the same survey.

Action Against Hunger’s emergency response will be fully operational within the month. The agency is strengthening the capacity of 15 local health centers in Bahr el Ghazal to treat acutely malnourished children and ramping up community-based programs to detect the condition before it reaches a critical stage. Action Against Hunger’s treatment model includes in-patient and out-patient centers, as well as a broad public awareness campaign to instruct families in best care and nutrition practices for young children. A mobile unit has also been established to provide nutritional care to children in nomadic communities.

These elevated malnutrition rates are the result of a number of troubling developments. An area affected by cyclical droughts and creeping desertification dating back to the 1970s, Bahr el Ghazal has experienced a precipitous decline in rainfall in the last two years, which has decimated cattle herds—a main source of livelihoods in the region—and staple crops.

As a result of a 34% drop in grain production throughout the country since last year, food prices are also on the rise; the cost of millet, for example, has reached the price level recorded at the height of the food crisis in March 2008. Action Against Hunger has observed families decreasing the number and nutritional content of meals, as well as heads of household migrating in search of employment opportunities, as food stocks are depleted.

Other factors, including political instability, ongoing conflict, poor health infrastructure and access to clean drinking water, and a fragile economy linked to fluctuations in oil revenues, have also increased the vulnerability of communities in the region. Action Against Hunger has worked in Chad since 1981, implementing programs in nutrition, food security, livelihoods, water, and sanitation.