Preliminary results from a United Nations nutritional survey among Sudanese refugees in northeastern Chad have found that more than a quarter of them suffer from acute malnutrition. The United Nations estimates about 200,000 refugees have fled into Chad to escape fighting in Sudan's western Darfur province.
The survey focused on three of the eight refugee camps in northeastern Chad. A ninth camp has since been opened. The nutritional status of refugees in the Bahai area, at the Chad-Sudan border, who had not yet been moved into safer, inland camps also was surveyed.
U.N. refugee agency spokesman Ron Redmond says acute malnutrition levels have reached crisis proportions, especially among children under age five. He says up to 39 percent of refugee children are malnourished.
"High levels, about 35 percent, of malnutrition were also found among the local Chadian population, many of whom, by the way, have been sharing what meager supplies they have with the refugees," said Ron Redmond. "The survey also found low levels of measles immunization among the refugees, and very high rates of diarrheal disease among those who are still along the border."
Mr. Redmond says aid workers warn that, without immediate action, the combination of these factors may lead to increases in serious illness and death.
The survey data were collected in mid-June. Since then, Mr. Redmond says, progress has been made on several fronts in improving the situation.
"Water supplies have been improved in the camps," he said. "They all have sufficient clean water now. The new camp that opened this week is also providing better shelter for those who have been stuck along the border and were suffering. A measles vaccination campaign is under way. But much more action is still needed. UNHCR is deploying an additional nutritionist and senior health coordinator. We are also working to find more NGO [non-governmental organization] partners in health and nutrition."
Mr. Redmond says final results on the survey are still being compiled. However, he notes one of the initial recommendations calls for supplementary feeding programs for all children under five, and pregnant and lactating women. It also calls for expanded feeding programs for malnourished children and improvements in the general food rations provided to all refugees.