Guest post by Kevin McCort, CEO, CARE Canada
One year ago I travelled to Kenya amid a devastating drought and food crisis that was affecting 12 million people in East Africa. Last summer I saw the outpouring of support from Canadians from coast to coast and because of that CARE was able to respond quickly and strongly.
However, one year later, I’ve just returned from Chad amid a similar crisis affecting countries in the Sahel Region of West Africa.
Unlike in East Africa where the UN declared famine in parts of Somalia, Chad and other countries in the region are not currently experiencing that worst-case scenario. Regardless of that, 18 million people in the Sahel region of West Africa face a severe food crisis. What struck me during this trip is that in some ways our success in preventing famine in Chad has actually impeded our ability to draw attention to this critical situation. The lack of a “highly visible tragedy” that a famine declaration provides just isn’t there. Although our efforts are averting a famine, we lack the means to support long-term development, which is worrisome because now is the time for development in Chad.
For the first time in a decade, Chad is experiencing peace and stability, particularly when compared to its neighbours in Libya, Nigeria, Mali, Sudan and the Central African Republic. It’s one of the country’s most stable periods, which has seen a history rife with civil war, armed rebellions, border conflicts and guerrilla campaigns.
At CARE we have a window of opportunity to do truly effective and impactful development work in Chad. When we visited a small village near Biltine in the eastern part of the country, we gathered in a traditional way, sitting on mats under a large tree, sipping tea. As we engaged with female and male community leaders, we discussed how CARE had refurbished water supply points, how funds we raised through the HUMANITARIAN COALITION have helped with the current emergency. Throughout this meeting I kept wondering how we could take the next step, build on our successes and truly seize the golden moment for development.
Chad still faces challenges including a population of over 366,000 refugees, an economic collapse as cross-border trade dries up, and of course, the current drought. In addition to managing refugee camps in two separate regions of Chad that 60,000 refugees from Sudan and the Central African Republic call home, CARE is also scaling up its emergency response efforts to support both refugees and local community members who are struggling to feed their families.
While in Chad, I visited a government run hospital where CARE was referring malnourished children. The head of the hospital (supported by Médecins Sans Frontières), expressed a frustration at the number of children who successfully received treatment but reappeared at the hospital within weeks because there was not enough food at home to keep them healthy. He talked about how more resources were needed in the most severely affected communities to prevent this cycle. In its next phase of operations, CARE will target the communities where 6 to 7 per cent of the children are severely malnourished and a further 17 per cent generally malnourished.
What was striking to me was seeing the arm bands used to measure the circumference of these children’s arms. It was truly shocking to see these tiny little arm bands and how hundreds of children in Chad are really that thin.
Clearly CARE needs to continue to provide emergency assistance, but we also need and want to build on the opportunity for development. We will continue to invest in Chad and help families become stronger, healthier and better able to face challenges such as recurrent drought and economic downturns. We cannot and must not abandon Chad.