Little Jawahir Adam, barely seven months old, clings to life through an oxygen tube attached to her nose. Ever since he was hospitalized with severe acute malnutrition, his mother, Gumsu Tijani, has kept her eyes on him. But they are not alone. All the catering wards of this hospital in N’Djamena, Chad’s capital, are packed with mothers and babies, some of them on the verge of death, unable to even cry. They are so overwhelmed that they had to turn down their first appointment last Thursday. “This is a very difficult decision for a healthcare worker,” says Usman Ahmat, head nurse at this European Union-funded unit, “but we are living in a way we have never seen before.” With a capacity of 60 children, they host 106. So far this year they have visited twice as many cases as in 2021. “Behind this peak is a blatant increase in the prices of basic foodstuffs,” he adds.
You only need to walk up to N’Djamena’s bustling market to see the difference. At the beginning of the year, one and a half liters of oil cost 1,000 CFA francs (about 1.5 euros), and today it costs 2,200 francs (about 3.3 euros); a bag of rice weighing 100 kg cost 60 euros, and currently it costs more than 80 euros; a loaf cost 15 cents, and now – 22 euros. For one of the world’s poorest countries, where a third of its 17 million people are food insecure, the differences are huge. “This is the worst year I can remember. If we are already 180% loaded when the real seasonal peak starts in June, I don’t know what we will do,” adds Akhmat from NGO Alima. The other four malnutrition services in N’Djamena face the same problem.
The rise in prices suffered by Chad and which is spreading across Africa predates the war in Ukraine and began to be felt as a consequence of trade disruptions associated with the covid-19 pandemic, but the conflict in Europe has exacerbated it even more. “We already had record prices for basic foodstuffs in February, a level we have not seen since 1990 that we are assessing,” says Mario Zappacosta, head of the global information and early warning system at the United Nations Agriculture and Food Agency (FAO ), “but in just two months of the war in Ukraine, prices have risen another 20% from this record level. And the most vulnerable countries start to suffer the most, which are affected by conflicts or climate shocks, such as droughts and floods, Yemen, Afghanistan and twenty African countries,” he explains.
This list includes the punishable Sahel (Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan and South Sudan), as well as Madagascar and its climate crisis, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Horn of Africa, as well as Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia. as the most sensitive countries due to a drought that lasted three years.
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“We are concerned that the impact will be much more pronounced at the end of 2022 due to low levels of agricultural production. Russia is the world’s leading exporter of fertilizers, and supply disruptions could lead to a reduction in planted areas or a drop in yields. All this will have an even greater impact on price growth,” adds Zappacosta. “If the war continues and this situation persists, it will hit all products and all countries.”
Bag and bottle
Alimi Abali waits patiently in the shade of a stunted tree under the scorching sun. Today is food distribution day in Furkulom, a settlement for people displaced by the jihadist conflict near Lake Chad, and he donned his best clothes to grab his month’s worth of cereal and a pitcher of butter. He used to be a merchant and selling fish, rice and sugar gave him and his family a livelihood, but seven years ago Boko Haram attacked his village and he had to leave the house in nothing but what he was wearing. Now it depends on humanitarian aid. When the World Food Program (WFP) halved the rations and cash they distribute to displaced people last October due to lack of funds for this crisis, he still had hope to buy corn from the local market. “But that is no longer possible. A 100 kg bag that cost 10,000 CFA francs is now valued at 30,000 (about 45 euros) and I can’t afford it,” he says with a weary gesture.
A few kilometers from Furkulom, in the new yellow hospital built with international help in the Chadian city of Liwa, six-month-old Issa Mahamat is walking a tightrope. He was hospitalized nine days ago weighing less than three kilograms: severe acute malnutrition. His mother, 25-year-old Baha Mahamat, left the two oldest with her family to stay with the baby, who barely sobs and barely breathes. In addition, they have been displaced by a war that has displaced half a million people in Chad from their homes, they have no land to cultivate or livestock, they are far from the fish that feed them, and their future remains uncertain. Another conflict, this time distant and alien, further complicated his life.
On May 5, UNICEF issued an alert to its international partners: The price of Pumply Nut, a ready-to-eat therapeutic food (RUTF) distributed in sachets to malnourished children around the world, such as little Issa Mahamat, will rise to 16% in the coming months compared to 2021. Extreme volatility in food prices in the markets that feed the supplement, as well as rising oil, energy and fertilizer prices, is at the root of the problem, according to the United Nations agency. “Additional funds are urgently needed to support the nutrition emergency response,” says UNICEF. Pumply Nut was already in short supply in Chad last year; by 2022, there are fears that it will not arrive for everyone from October.
Many African countries are taking steps to deal with exceptional price increases. Senegal has just approved €120 emergency aid for half a million disadvantaged families; Kenya approved a 12% increase in the minimum wage and Morocco a 10% increase. Despite their efforts, these countries can afford it, but in places where conflict and climate change are strongly felt, most states depend on foreign humanitarian assistance.
Today, 27.3 million people in the Sahel and West Africa are food insecure, according to the OECD, and that figure will rise to 40.7 million in August. The UN fears that another 20 million people will slide down the slope of hunger this year in the Horn of Africa, where WFP received only 4% of the requested funds.
“Most of what we distribute here comes from abroad, local production is not enough to provide for all the refugees and displaced people from the conflict,” says Clement Watimbwa, head of this UN agency in the Lago region of Chad, “because that is why Rising prices are already affecting our aid.”
In line for his half ration, Yakura Mahamat, in a bright dress, sits on the sun-warmed sand, ready to wait as long as it takes. “During the attack, I lost seven members of my family. As long as there is no security, I cannot return home, and here we lack everything.” When a strong wind blows and lifts the sand, blurring the view, farmer Blama Karimbou yearns for his fertile land, his island by the lake. “I have hands that I can work with, but now I only use them to take the food they give me. It’s unbearable,” he says.
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