Chad: Hunger and malnutrition affect children and adults alike

As a historic drought and hunger crisis continues to put lives at risk across Africa’s Sahel region, no one — not even the adults who are responsible to care for vulnerable children — is immune from the suffering this emergency has caused.

Story and photos by Djimte Salomon, World Vision Chad.
Published June 26, 2012 at 12:00am PDT

Three-year-old Serge lives with his elderly grandmother in a village in Chad. His mother abandoned him a year ago to move to the city.

Though his father lives in the same village, Serge was given to his grandmother, Alice, for care. In the past, she was able to provide food for the family. But not anymore.

“We live on a day-to-day basis, because there is not a single grain of cereal available in my house,” says Alice. “We live upon little activities such as collecting firewood or shea nuts and selling them in the local market.

“If we do not have something to sell, then we just sleep without eating.”

Adult and child both in need

Recently, Serge was sick, so Alice took him to the local health center. He was diagnosed as severely malnourished and given therapeutic food. But nurses noticed that Alice was also suffering.

“She was also weak and malnourished, and one can see it from her fleshless chest,” says one nurse. “You could clearly see that the old woman is desperately in need of food, and the health center has considered her, too, for food assistance.”

Typically, this area enjoys a high level of agriculture and food production. But because of erratic rainfall and drought across northern Africa in the past year — both across the Horn region and in West Africa — food reserves have been depleted, and many are now facing hunger.

‘Malnutrition is a reality’

The situation is noticeable at this health center, where many local children go for basic medical care and advice.

“Today, we consulted 13 children here at the health center as part of our routine work, but we discovered that six children are suffering from severe malnutrition,” says nurse Ossolbaye, who is in charge of the center. “The fact that we could have six cases in one day shows that malnutrition is a reality here, and we will likely see the number grow from now on, if nothing serious is done to prevent [it].”

Most troubling is the fact that adults like Alice are affected by this crisis just as profoundly as children. Many families have witnessed the drying up of their planted crops. And during a time when it’s especially important, many parents are not trained on proper nutrition to care for their children.

Malnutrition is an issue here because many mothers do not know what a balanced diet is,” says Ossolbaye. “Mothers tend to spend all their time at the market doing small business and forgetting to properly feed their children.”

Fighting to save lives

Serge is only 3 years old, but he's already suffering from severe malnutrition.To help counter these disturbing trends, World Vision is offering support to this local health center, which provides care to more than 21,000 people in 19 villages, including nearly 4,000 children under the age of 5. Child and maternal health interventions, such as nutritional training, are among the most important activities conducted at the center.

“We are entering in a very critical period, and our efforts [at the health center] will touch only the few most vulnerable,” says nurse Ossolbaye. “We think that World Vision will bring us assistance so that we can reach September when the first foodstuff will be available in the village.

“We need both food and seeds to avoid fighting malnutrition again next year.”

World Vision has already provided the health center with cooking pots and other materials needed for the preparation of an enriched porridge to feed the malnourished children. Our team has also planned to build a shelter where nutritional training and monitoring will be performed by trained local volunteers.

In the meantime, children like Serge and adults like Alice are being treated here for immediate relief from their malnutrition. But this isn’t a permanent solution, and as the drought and hunger crisis intensifies across northern Africa, many more lives are at risk.

Learn more

In Niger, Chad’s neighbor to the west, conditions are equally dire. Watch this video about children who have been forced to eat locusts — the insects that destroyed their family’s crops — to survive the ongoing hunger crisis.

Ways you can help

Please pray for the return of rains to areas of Africa that have been devastated by drought and food shortages, including Chad. In the meantime, pray that children like Serge and their families would receive the life-saving assistance they need to cope with their circumstances.

Make a one-time donation to help provide life-saving food and care to children suffering from hunger. Your gift will help deliver interventions like nutritional training, agricultural support, clean water, emergency food aid, and more to those in greatest need.

Give monthly to support children suffering from hunger. Your monthly donation will help us provide ongoing assistance in regions where hunger and malnutrition threaten children’s lives.