Mariam Hissen and her children are too weak from malnourishment to observe the daily fasts required during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Copyright:WFP/Antti Mantymaa
As many as six in ten families are going hungry in the West African country of Chad, where drought and crop failures made for a grim Ramadan, the Muslim holy month. To stem the tide of malnutrition, WFP has launched a major feeding campaign targeting 747,000 people in the worst hit areas.
TOUKOULI – Mariam Hissen has come 45 km to collect her WFP food rations. To get here, she walked for a full day under the blistering Sahelian sun with five children trailing behind and a sixth, her newborn daughter Zara, in a sling around her back.
“The time between harvests is always difficult for us,” says Mariam, whose husband has stayed behind to tend to the fields. “But this year we have nothing.”
Back in her village of Gamiri, the drought has spoiled an ordinarily special time of year -- the holy month of Ramadan.
She and her husband usually raise enough crops to be able to celebrate the end of Ramadan with a traditional feast. But food is so scarce this year that they weren't able to do that. Most of the women in the community were in no condition to take part in the traditional Ramadan fasting during daylight hours.
“These women were too weak for fasting,” explains Sanodji Rachele, a nurse at the Toukouli health centre. “They have to eat whatever they can, whenever they can.”
Though nursing women and the physically ill are not required to fast during the Muslim holy month, Rachele said it still weighed heavily on them not to be able to take part in the most important events the year.
Miriam was among 400 people gathered outside a health centre in Toukouli, a village in the Kanem region of Western Chad, where food distributions are underway. According to WFP’s March Food Security Assessment, last year’s drought slashed harvests in Chad by over a third, sending cereal prices through the roof.
Already high levels of child malnutrition soared as well, touching 19.9 percent in Kanem and 26.9 percent in the Bahr el-Ghazal region – well above the 15 percent considered to be an emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Mothers and children targeted
To turn back the tide of malnutrition, WFP has launched a major feeding programme targeting over 737,000 people across the country, primarily mothers and small children. The corn-soya blend, oil and sugar families like Mariam’s receive will give them the strength, energy and nutrition to hang on until the autumn harvest.
Despite the tough year, Mariam is hopeful. She pointed to a patch of grass near the health center where a group of mules are grazing, and says she has reason to be optimistic. The rains have come in force this year and the animals that survived the drought are starting to look healthier.
“Last year, there was hardly any grass at all,” she says. “It’s still early to know if that means we’ll have a decent harvest, but at least we can hope.”