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Malnutrition levels rise among children in Chad

High rates of acute malnutrition are not uncommon in Chad, particularly in the western Kanem region along the border with Niger, where over the past decade rates of malnutrition have only dipped once below the World Health Organization’s emergency threshold of 15%.

Chad is now suffering from the same drought problems as others across the Sahel region, exacerbating the high levels of food insecurity which already exist in this fragile country. The United Nations Children’s Agency (UNICEF) estimates the number of acutely malnourished children will reach 127,000 this year.

A large and complex state, with over 150 different ethnic groups, Chad has suffered from the presence of many armed groups who often resort to violence to settle disputes. This means that the numbers of agencies and non-governmental organisations working there is small compared to other countries in the region. With only a few international agencies present, food aid volumes are also low. And since roads and public services are poorly developed, it takes time to meet even basic needs of drought-affected communities.

According to a recent report – ‘Escaping the Hunger Cycle, Pathways to Resilience in the Sahel’ - from a group of aid agencies, “the severe food deficit situation of households, combined with structural factors such as gender inequality and poor access to healthcare, have been generating catastrophic rates of child under-nutrition in the Sahelian zone of Chad for many years”. This year, the World Food Programme estimates that 3.6 million Chadians will need food.

But while more food aid is vital for Chad, agencies say that little long-term progress can be made to improve the situation until other factors are also addressed, particularly the country’s poor health system. Over the last twenty years, there has been no improvement in strengthening government institutions and basic services in western Sahel. Hospitals and clinics lack qualified staff, equipment and medicines, though UNICEF says the main problem remains the lack of “human resources”.

Thanks to support from aid agencies, over 260 health centres are treating cases of acute and severe malnutrition across ten regions. UNICEF is also helping to train more district health workers, boosting medical staff by 1,000 this year. But until Chad invests in a long term strategy for tackling malnutrition and treatment, help will continue to fall short and consist of mainly reactive and short-term emergency measures.

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