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Building resilience to reduce child malnutrition in Chad

Over half of all children in Chad are stunted from existing on a diet with too few calories or not enough variety, or both.

And in nine of Chad’s Sahel regions, rates of malnutrition among children under five regularly rise above the 15% threshold designated as an “emergency” hunger situation by the World Health Organization (WHO). In 2013, the United Nation’s (UN) child agency (UNICEF) estimates that around 127,000 children in Chad will be affected by severe acute malnutrition.

Chad is one of a number of Sahel countries where regular droughts are having a devastating effect on the health of the next generation. Historically, severe drought used to occur in the region approximately every decade. But climate change has played havoc with weather patterns and droughts are now happening every few years. In a snapshot of how families are coping in the Mao area of Chad, a slideshow on The Guardian’s website shows how families, who have for generations relied on pastoral farming, are now going hungry because their herds have diminished.

UN organisations (including UNICEF), along with a number of other international charities, have just published the 2013 Sahel Regional Strategy report. This report suggests that 1.66 billion dollars is needed across the Sahel region this year to meet humanitarian needs and help build food security for the most vulnerable communities. Chad is designated as the largest recipient in need of such assistance, requiring 501 million dollars.

Some of this money will be spent on emergency food and nutrition programmes. But the main focus in 2013 will be on helping to lift families out of a cycle of debt and poverty by providing agricultural assistance and programmes which build ‘resilience’. This includes enabling farmers to diversify their crops, increase yields and use more effective irrigation methods. Speaking to IRIN, the head of the UN’s West Africa Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that funding was needed to help “agro-pastoralists ...build up their animal, grain or seed stocks.” Efforts will also be made to improve methods of conserving animal fodder.

However, to be effective, much of this year’s assistance for agriculture is required by March because the planting season takes place in April and May. But so far, only 4% of the 2013 Sahel appeal has been funded. Agencies therefore hope that the publication of the report will boost money-raising efforts, because for Chad’s vulnerable families, the timing is essential.

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