One Quarter of Western Chad's Children Hungry

26/8/2010 - One in four children living in western Chad's Sahelian region suffer from acute malnutrition.

Hunger remains a chronic problem of underdevelopment across Africa’s Sahelian belt. With recent floods agitating drought-related food insecurity, more than seven million people are at risk of starvation in Chad’s western neighbour, Niger. Chad, however, is experiencing devastating problems of its own that may have serious ramifications for child welfare.

More than a quarter of children in some regions of western Chad suffer from acute malnutrition. Acute malnutrition refers to severe deficiencies in the vitamins and minerals essential for important physiological functions, rather than a simple lack of overall calories. Acute malnutrition can lead to problem in brain and bone development in both foetuses and young children. The World Health Organization (WHO) sets its emergency threshold level at an acute child malnutrition rate of 15%.

A joint health research survey carried about by non-governmental organizations, Chad’s Ministry of Health, the UK’s development agency and United Nations (UN) agencies indicated that in the region of Mao, 21% of children under five are acutely malnourished. In the Nokou and Bahr El Ghazal regions, the rates are as high as 27-28%.

Widespread hunger at this particular time of year is not uncommon in Chad. The time between harvests is commonly known as the “hunger gap.”

This year, the hunger gap has been aggravated by crop failures in poverty-stricken areas that are already underserviced by health care workers and medical facilities. Meanwhile, aid workers cannot reach everyone, clean water can be hard to find, and only half of Chad’s children are immunized against key diseases. These factors have converged so that child mortality is extremely high. According to UNICEF, one in five Chadian children will die before the age of five.

Chad received US$3.8 million from the United Nations’ Central Emergency Response Fund earlier this year, though it seeks another US$8 million as the dangers facing human security have intensified.

The Environment and Food Security in Chad

The semi-arid Sahelian region in Chad is 500 kilometres wide, stretching from N’djamena – Chad’s capital city – all the way to the Sudanese border. As in Niger and many other countries, water resources have grown scarce and soil nutrients are often exhausted by agriculture. According to the UN’s Environment Programme (UNEP), the only varieties of millet – a staple foodgrain in Chad – that grow in the Sahelian region are hardy versions that have low yields. This means that less food can be grown where people may be the most hungry.

Droughts are not uncommon. In fact, the UNEP states that Chad is the driest country in central Africa. Lake Chad, which is an important source of livelihoods for farmers and fishermen, has shrunk considerably in the past three decades according to data from satellite imaging.