Fighting the Scourge of Malnutrition in Chad’s Sahel Belt
Written by Nathalie Magnien
The west-central African nation of Chad has a history of severe food and nutrition crises. The latest figures from specialized surveys show troubling prevalence rates of malnutrition among children at national level, with spikes in some regions of the country, especially those in the Sahel Belt. But national health services and humanitarian partners including the World Food Programme (WFP) are fighting the scourge of undernutrition.
In the village of Ngarangou, about an hour’s drive from Bol, the main town of the Lake Region, west of Chad’s sahelian belt, mothers and their children gather at the health centre once a week for nutrition education and checks.
Gana Kakani, a 19-year-old mother of one child is among those present. She has come to take her nutritional supplements because she is expecting a second baby. Her 10-month-old son, Adam Abdallah, is also enrolled in the programme. It took them 3 hours to reach the health centre where WFP is working with its partner, International Medical Corps (IMC), to treat cases of moderate acute malnutrition.
“The walk is very tiring but I have no choice,” says Gana who became a wife at the age of 15.
Specialists examine Adam. He is still undernourished and needs supplementary foods. Gana is handed packs of Plumpy’Sup’, a specialised food to treat malnutrition made from peanut paste. Before she knows it, Adam has grasped one of packs trying to suck it even before it is opened.
Gana believes her son is still malnourished because the family does not have land to grow food. Her husband is a marabout, teaching in a Koranic school, and his income is very low. But there is hope that he will be better if he continues the nutrition treatment.
From the Lake Region, we move to the Guera region in the heart of the Sahelian belt. It is a 7 hours’ drive from N’Djamena, the Chadian capital, to the village of Banda. Here, efforts to combat chronic malnutrition date back to 2011 with a local non-governmental organisation known as ASRADD.
ASRADD has identified women as a pillar to the success of nutrition awareness. The head of the women’s group, Halime Zakaria, leads the education sessions. Most members cannot read or write. To help them understand the nutritional value of food she uses coloured flags: red for proteins, yellow for energy value, blue for water and green for vegetables.
“The awareness campaign has paid off! In 2016, we had 225 malnourished children, in 2017 only 165 cases,”says Kaltouma Gary, the nurse in charge of the village health centre.
“Community nutrition volunteers, play a major role by encouraging screening and follow-up, which helps in the early detection of malnutrition cases and regular care,” she added.
In addition, an integrated approach by WFP and its partners which links nutrition to food security, safety nets and livelihoods has been another reason behind the successful efforts to combat malnutrition in this part of the Guera region.
For instance, the women in Banda are trained to farm the vegetables which they are shown during the nutrition education sessions. They have a 5000 square-metre plot next to the health centre to practice their skills. Up to 1000 women have been trained so far.
“Each beneficiary cultivates a plot of 100 square meters on which they plant an assortment of 4 crops: carrots, okra, salad and tomatoes,” explains Kiro Tomaya, the agronomist who works for ASRADD. “Most of the harvest is used for household consumption, the rest is sold in the local market.”
In Chawir, still in the Guera region, a portion of the fresh products grown by the women is used for the preparation of school meals for the local primary school. It is part of WFP Chad pilot project in partnership with a local NGO known as Moustagbal.
“These vegetables are very popular with children,” says Hassan Adoum Raymond, the headmaster. “The children are eager to eat when the meal is served with vegetables!”
Three of the mothers involved in the gardening activities cook for the school. After having benefited from cash transfer assistance during the pilot phase, they now carry out their mission without direct remuneration, aware of the importance of providing a hot meal a day to their children.
The 372 pupils who attend Chawir Primary School are full of dreams. They all want to continue their studies beyond elementary school.
As they eat their plate of red beans, some, like Mahamat Ramadane, 14 years old, want to become Minister of Education to set up refectories at school but also bring books, notebooks and benches.
Idriss Souleymane wants to become a Minister of Health to provide medicines and vaccines. Halime Mahamat, 15, wants to be a teacher and does not want to get married too early.
Support WFP Chad to ensure the sustainability of these projects which, over the long term, can make a difference for communities that are eager to take their destiny in their own hands
WFP thanks its donors in 2017 — Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Switzerland, the United States of America and private donors — for their contribution to the fight against malnutrition in Chad.
Text & Photos: WFP/Nathalie Magnien