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CHAD: Alarm rung late, food running out

MAO, 13 March 2012 (IRIN) - Late Chadian government recognition of a food crisis, a slow build-up from aid agencies, and severe pipeline constraints due to closed Libyan and Nigerian borders mean food aid has not yet arrived in Chad, despite many thousands of people having already run out of food.

Residents of Eri Toukouli village in Kanem Region, western Chad, told IRIN they have nothing to eat. Most are surviving by leaving for towns and cities. Grain stores are empty and the animals they used to rely on are dead.

“Before we had 10-15 animals each, now we have nothing,” said Haoua Idriss, who has seven children. Almost every family in this village once had at least one relative working in Libya who sent back money, but now all have fled the violence there.

In the village of Tassino, Mangalmé District, Guéra Region, central Chad, women have resorted to digging up anthills in the hope of collecting grain left behind by ants, said Oxfam Regional Campaigns and Policy manager Stephen Cockburn from the capital N’djamena.

These examples are backed up by an inter-agency assessment from October 2011, which predicted families in some vulnerable regions such as northern Kanem, would run out of food by February.

When it comes to malnutrition, response gaps remain in the regions of Batha, Hajer Lamis, northern Kanem, Wadi Fira, Ouaddai and Guéra, according to ECHO’s (The European Commission aid body) Technical Assistant in N’djamena, Jane Lewis.

The Chadian government only appealed for help on 21 December. As a result, the UN country team, whose protocol dictates that it waits for an invitation to respond, started mobilizing late. While staff in agencies such as the World Food Programme (WFP) are working furiously to beat the clock, a lead time of up to six months to get food to where it is needed means that the very soonest food will start to arrive is some time in April.

Border closures

Food import options are severely limited this year, as the Libyan and Nigerian borders are closed, leaving only Port Sudan and a rail link from Douala in Cameroon. Regional food stocks from Nigeria and Cameroon are also diminished because both were also affected by drought, said WFP head of logistics Jean-Pierre Leroy, though WFP is currently exploring options of procuring Nigerian government food reserves.

As of early March, some 14,000 tons of WFP-imported grain was on its way to Douala, and 18,500 tons en route from Sudan; but this is just a fraction of the estimated 160,000 tons needed until the end of 2012.

Getting food to where it is needed can take up to three months between arrival at the port and distribution to regional warehouses, said Leroy, which means anything that comes through after 1 April “will be very tight” as roads could become impassable after rains begin in June.

“Now is the crunch time… It is very complicated. We are very stretched, and can’t afford to have any problems with the Sudan pipeline right now,” Leroy told IRIN. WFP in Chad could face some competition from WFP in Sudan which is stocking up food for displaced people in camps there.


Photo: Stephen Cockburn/Oxfam
Residents of Mangalmé District in Guéra Region dig up anthills to try to scavenge for grain the ants have left behind
WFP plans to provide food to 1.2 million children as well as pregnant and lactating women for six months, according to Alice-Martin Dahirou, head of WFP in Chad.

Little pre-positioning

Despite recurrent droughts in the Sahel region, WFP has no significant pre-positioned food stocks in Chad as they would be too expensive to keep up, said Leroy. However, the organization has managed to cut down its delivery times from six to three or four months because of its Working Capital Fund, whereby it can procure food on a loan basis, creating a rolling stock. In place for three years, it is now starting to work well, said Dahirou.

Chad’s problem is that the government has few emergency stocks - just 40,000 tons, according to Agriculture Minister Djimit Adoum - which sets it apart from its neighbours Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, all of which have been building up emergency reserves over recent years.

NGO Action Against Hunger (ACF) has helped some 30 villages across Kanem and Bahr el Gazal regions to build up grain reserves, but “this can only help on a small scale,” Céline Bernier, nutrition coordinator at ACF, told IRIN.

The government will build up emergency stocks only if donors and UN agencies help it to do so, said Adoum.

In January the government put 20,000 tons of subsidized cereals on the market, and it plans to release another 20,000 by the end of March, according to Adoum. Meanwhile, the Chinese have promised US$4 million of rice, though it is unclear how this will arrive in the country.

“Faced with such a large need [3.5 million Chadians will struggle to feed themselves and maintain their livelihoods this year, according to the UN], the proactivity of the government is essential in driving and coordinating an effective response to this crisis,” said Oxfam’s Cockburn.

A “rapidly implemented” national response plan, bringing together all humanitarian actors, is needed, he said. A national response plan was allegedly adopted last week, though details are as yet unknown.

The government, donors and aid agencies all need to build up better mitigation reflexes, ACF’s Bernier told IRIN. “We know the Sahel and we know there will always be crises... Agencies are gearing up and are doing mitigation, but the crisis is now… It’s so much cheaper if we react early.”

While the government is looking to intensify agricultural production, and commits 8 percent of its annual budget to the sector, it does not prioritize food security or nutrition, one aid official told IRIN. Instead, large sums are spent on “roads, and lots of white elephants - there is a poor prioritization of funds here.”

The Chadian government’s Food Security and Emergency Management Committee holds regular food security meetings but few decisions are taken at them, while donors are not as well-coordinated on the food crisis response as they could be, one aid donor who preferred anonymity, told IRIN. The main donors involved are ECHO, the Swiss, the USA, France and Germany.

It was the UN Central Emergency Response Fund’s US$6 million, given early on, that helped agencies to scale up quickly, said staff from several agencies.

Crisis fatigue?

Some say the international community took a while to wake up to the looming food crisis partly because of “crisis overload”. “There are so many crises here - cholera, Nigeria, measles, Libya, meningitis, polio, food - it’s non-stop, so there is a sense of `here we go again’,” one aid expert told IRIN.

Lots of aid agencies operate in the country, but they are unevenly spread, with up to 70 NGOs in and around Sudanese refugee camps in the east, while some highly vulnerable areas in central and western Chad may have just three or four. When responding to the 2009 food crisis WFP had to distribute much of its food itself due to a lack of partners.

Many in the international community are trying to push NGOs westwards to create a more even balance.

Meanwhile, Idriss in Kanem just received five goats from the Food and Agriculture Organization - one of the few international agencies working out of Mao. Just when she thought she had run out of survival options, they have provided a lifeline. But ultimately, she says, her way of life may be coming to an end. “If things continue this way, with bad rains, I don’t know if we will be able to stay here in the future,” she told IRIN.

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Theme (s): Aid Policy, Food Security, Governance, Health & Nutrition, Natural Disasters, Sahel Crisis,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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