It is called the lean season. Every year in Chad, communities that are dependent on rain-fed agriculture experience a tough three-month period between two harvests when food stocks are depleted. Experts say that this year’s lean season could be the worst in six years for Chad because it started earlier — that is in April instead of June.
Wadi Fira in eastern Chad is one of eight regions in Chad’s Sahelian belt. It is also one of the worst affected by extreme climatic conditions. Due to poor rainfall during the last rainy season, Wadi Fira’s inhabitants have been exposed to a worrying drop in agricultural production.
It is hard for many families. Most struggle to cook even a single meal a day.
“Because we don’t have any more stocks, we rely on food bought on the market but prices went up,” says Ahmat Adam. “We have no water to drink.”
Ahmat Adam, who is 75-years-old, has witnessed several droughts in the region. He says the current situation is far worse than what happened in the lean season last year. He firmly believes that climate change is responsible for the recurrent droughts in the Sahel.
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in Chad and partners launched a response in May with the support of donors to provide vital food and nutritional assistance for 186,000 people in Wadi Fira whose food stocks were exhausted. The assistance will expand to Batha, Barh El Gazal, Kanem, Lac, Guéra and Ouaddai regions. WFP plans to support 700,000 people until September, as part of its lean season scale-up.
Fatimeh Hassan Yayah Mahamat is one of the tens thousands of people served in Wadi Fira. Life is a daily struggle for the mother of seven children. Her husband went looking for work three years ago when she was two months pregnant. She has had no news from him since.
“I know that thanks to the food received, I will be able to prepare meals for my kids the next few months,” says Fatimeh Hassan Yayah Mahamat.
She says it is difficult to raise the children alone amid an economic crisis in a country compounded by a bad harvest and an extremely erratic rainfall.
“I have seen with my own eyes how severe the situation is,” says Issa Sanogo, WFP Chad Deputy Country Director who travelled to Wadi Fira for the start of the response. “Every person you talk to has a poignant tale about the conditions. We are working with our partners and donors to provide immediate support and also develop food assistance for assets programme to build resilience to these recurrent shocks.”
Nutrition support is also vital. Malnutrition is widespread in Chad and has deteriorated compared to previous crisis years. In 12 out of 23 regions of the country, the global acute malnutrition rate (GAM) prevalence is over the World Health Organisation (WHO) emergency threshold of 15 percent. In 2012 and 2015 — the last time the crisis was this bad — nine and seven regions, respectively, had a prevalence of GAM above the emergency threshold.
As part of the response to the deteriorating situation in most of Chad’s Sahelian belt, WFP and partners are also aiming to provide fortified nutritious food to prevent and treat malnutrition to more than 130,000 pregnant and nursing women and children aged 6 to 23 months.
Food and fortified nutritious food distributions are preceded by “sensitization sessions” that encompass topics like good feeding practices and the importance of exclusive breastfeeding for up to 6 months.
Fatimeh Abdelkerim who received such seasonal assistance for the first time, watched and listened carefully to WFP staff and partners from Care International and Secadev explain and demonstrate how to cook the specialized food.
“I have to carefully boil the water before mixing with the nutritious flour to avoid contamination that will make the child sick,” says Fatimeh Abdelkerim.
The assistance being provided during the lean season in Chad is made possible in part by funding from Canada, Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), the UK Department for International Development (DFID), Japan, Switzerland, the United States, and the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).