Sahel food crisis: The situation in Chad

A mother feeds her severely malnourished son at the Action Against Hunger/UNICEF-run nutrition feeding centre at Mao district hospital in Kanem, western Chad. IRIN photo.

I’m currently writing a series of posts looking at the state of the Sahel food crisis. The first part, a regional overview, was published here. Over the coming days I will look at the other countries that are impacted by the food crisis, so come back if you like to know more!

I’m beginning my country-by-country analysis of the Sahel food crisis with Chad, as it is this country that will probably bear the brunt of what is coming has already arrived.

First the facts: parts of Chad have already descended into full-blown emergency, with thousands of children being admitted to nutrition treatment centers. Action Contre la Faim (ACF) also reports on numerous deaths due to late admission of children to the centers. The district of Kanem seems to be the most heavily impacted at the moment.

In a normal year, the lean period would only be about to begin, but this year, several developments converge to deliver a situation which will only get worse over the next months:

First is of course the erratic and low rainfall over the last year. According to the FAO, agricultural production was 50% lower in 2011 than it was the year before.

But the effect of this is worsened by several man-made factors. Firstly, Chad is situated between several active conflict zones: Libya, northern Nigeria and Darfur. Libya was traditionally an important source of remittances from Chadian guest workers. These had to flee during the Libyan civil war, as black Africans increasingly became targets of revenge killings by the Libyan rebels.

The ongoing attacks by Boko Haram in Nigeria in turn prompted the government there to close all borders to its northern neighbors. This has hit many people in Kanem hard, as they used to sell cattle to Nigeria for income generation.

Additionally, these conflicts have led to a “pipeline constraints”: food aid is usually delivered by ship and road. Chad is landlocked and especially Nigeria would normally be a natural transit route for food aid delivery.

Adding to this are several internal issues. The health system of Chad is in its best times described as “dysfunctional”, being underfinanced and having not nearly enough staff to cope with the demand.

The government of Chad was also very late to admit the need for help. This has further slowed down the delivery of food aid, as international organizations and NGOs have to get government approval to start their activities. It may also have contributed to the relatively low amount of financing currently available for Chad; While financing requests for Niger have been met to almost 40%, requests for Chad have been financed only by 25% so far, according to OCHA.

Taking action in Chad has become a matter of urgency. Both local and international governments should increase their activities and financial contribution to keep the situation from spinning out of control.