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For months West Africa has been anticipating a major food crisis, and now even earlier and more severely than expected, the district of Kanem in Western Chad has entered an emergency situation. In neighbouring countries, the situation continues to deteriorate, with one million children at risk of severe acute malnutrition.
More than 2,000 malnourished children were admitted to Action Against Hunger | ACF International’s nutritional centres in Kanem in February alone, which is more than three times the number treated in the same month last year. Action Against Hunger’s teams on the ground are also concerned about the increasingly critical malnourished state of children when they reach the centres – an indicator of the rapid deterioration of the situation in the region.
ACF nutritionist, Clemence Malet, based in Mao, the capital of Kanem, explains: “During November and December, many children suffering from malnutrition arrived at our feeding centres but they were in a state that allowed us to treat them back to health without too many complications. Today however, children are arriving in such an advanced state of malnutrition that we cannot always save them. Many are dying on the way to the centre, which is something that we have seen only rarely over the previous months.”
The effect of instability in neighbouring countries
In Chad, one in 20 children die before they reach one month old and one in ten children die before their first birthday. In Kanem, over 60 per cent of the population lives in a permanent state of food insecurity. In addition, communities are still recovering from the food crisis of 2010, and so the impact of this year’s crisis is even more dramatic.
Regional instability is worsening the situation, making trade and migration to neighbouring Libya and Nigeria, which were typically the best options for migrant workers, impossible. Following the Libya crisis, migrant workers were forced to return home and families have lost an average 20 per cent of their income, and in some cases much more.
“Every four or five months our husbands would send us money, but now we no longer receive it and with their return home there are also more mouths to feed,” said a local woman from the village of Barrah, which has seen 120 men return home from Libya.
Protecting livestock to save lives
Livestock is the main livelihood in Kanem, with pastoralists depending on their animals to survive. A lack of pasture is destroying livestock, leaving pastoralists with no means of an income to buy food for their families. The UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID) is currently funding Action Against Hunger’s programmes to protect pastoralists’ livelihoods and prevent their animals from dying or being sold at very low prices, through the provision of veterinary services and the distribution of animal fodder.
The lean season (the period of food shortages in between harvests) has begun two months early and many families have had no food stocks for weeks. To respond to the urgency of the situation Action Against Hunger is coordinating with other humanitarian organisations, and in March teams are launching a food distribution programme.
Action Against Hunger is also increasing its mobile nutrition teams, who are travelling around the country to identify and treat malnourished children. Teams are planning to support more than 20,000 children in Kanem and the neighbouring province of Bahr el Gazal.
Elsewhere in the Sahel
The food crisis extends far beyond Chad. In Burkina Faso, health centres supported by Action Against Hunger have also seen a substantial increase in admissions of malnourished children, with a 200 per cent increase of children suffering from severe acute malnutrition in Tapoa, in January compared to last year. The country is also experiencing an influx of refugees from Mali, estimated at around 800 arrivals per day. Action Against Hunger plans to treat more than 10,000 children suffering from malnutrition in the coming weeks in Burkina Faso.
The worst affected areas of Mauritania are the south and central regions. Almost one in four households were already food insecure in December (three times the amount in 2010). As with Chad, instability is affecting mobility to neighbouring countries. Whilst pastoralists usually migrate with their animals to Mali during the lean season, conflict in the north of the country has forced them to return home to Mauritania, where they are forced to share poor pastures.
In Niger, six million people are already food insecure. The situation is expected to worsen as food stocks run out. A sign of the deteriorating situation is the unusual migration of entire families. Action Against Hunger feeding centres are not reporting the same increase of admissions as Chad, however the peak of the lean season is not expected until July and August. Teams are providing 6,000 families with financial support, in addition to programmes to prevent and treat malnutrition.
In Mali, conflict has displaced more than 172,000 people, exacerbating the already fragile situation.
West Africa is facing an extensive crisis that not only requires urgent action, but also a sustained approach to prevent future recurrences. To address the crisis, the management of malnutrition urgently needs improving as well as reviving agricultural production to assist farmers to ensure that the next harvest is successful.
Action Against Hunger has launched an emergency appeal for West Africa and is scaling up programmes across Chad and neighbouring countries. To support Action Against Hunger’s West Africa e
Notes to the editor:
Action Against Hunger | ACF International is an international humanitarian organisation committed to ending child hunger. Recognised as a leader in the fight against malnutrition, ACF works to save the lives of malnourished children while providing communities with sustainable access to safe water and long-term solutions to hunger. With 30 years of expertise in emergency situations of conflict, natural disaster, and chronic food insecurity, ACF runs life-saving programmes in some 40 countries benefiting 6 million people each year. www.actionagainsthunger.org.uk | Registered charity No 1047501
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