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September 14, 2011

Chad Faces Daunting Food Security, Health Challenges

A senior U.N. official says Chad faces daunting food security and health challenges.  Despite this, he says the peace and growing stability in Chad bodes well for the country’s future. 

U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Chad Thomas Gurtner says Chad faces critical challenges, but also opportunities.  He says about 1.5 million people in the Sahel zone do not have enough to eat.  He says global acute malnutrition rates among children under five are more than 20 percent in most areas.

He says spotty and insufficient rainfall is likely to limit agricultural production in the months ahead, causing prices to rise and making food unaffordable for most people.

Meanwhile, more than 80,000 Chadian migrants have returned home from Libya to escape civil unrest there and thousands of others are waiting to return.  

Gurtner says one of the consequences of these returns is the loss of remittances to poor Chadian families. “Maybe half of the returnees were people that were actively sending maybe about $100 a month equivalent back into some of the poorer regions of Chad.  While we are already dealing with a food security crisis in these areas, the fact that there are now 80,000 more that need to be taken care of is putting even further pressure onto the system with prices increasing,” he explained. 

He says the government, with the help of aid agencies is struggling to contain the worst cholera epidemic in years, which has killed 400 people and left more than 13,000 people infected.  He says up to 15,000 more cases of cholera are expected over the next few weeks.

Despite these overwhelming problems, U.N. Coordinator Gurtner says he sees encouraging political changes in the country and believes they offer opportunities for improving conditions for the population.

He says Chad is hostage to a volatile political situation in the region and the country will always be influenced by what happens in neighboring Sudan, Libya, Niger and Central African Republic.

“But with at least stability and peace having returned over the last two years, there is a clear will within the country to move forward.  There is oil revenue, which is being in part now invested in infrastructure and provision of better health and social services,” Gurtner said.  

Gurtner cautions it will take a long time and considerable resources to improve conditions in one of the poorest countries in the world.  But he says he is moderately optimistic because Chad's government is willing to work to improve the situation of its population.