War in Ukraine: Malnutrition strikes the poorest in Africa | International
Little Djawahir Adam, barely seven months old, is clinging to life through an oxygen tube attached to her nose. Ever since she was admitted to hospital with severe acute malnutrition, her mother, Goumsou Tidjani, has not taken her eyes off her. But they are not alone. All the rooms of the nutrition unit of this hospital in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, are packed with mothers and babies, some of them on the verge of death, without even the strength to cry. They are so overwhelmed that on Thursday they had to deny the first admissions. “It is a very hard decision for a health worker,” says Ousmane Ahmat, head nurse of this unit financed by the European Union, “but we live something never seen before.” With a capacity for 60 children, they welcome 106. So far this year they have treated twice as many cases as in 2021. “The scandalous rise in the prices of basic food products is behind this peak,” he adds.
It is enough to approach the bustling market of N’Djamena to see the difference. At the beginning of the year, a liter and a half of oil cost 1,000 CFA francs (about 1.5 euros), but today it is 2,200 francs (about 3.3 euros); a sack of rice of 100 kilos was worth 60 euros and currently it costs more than 80; a loaf was priced at 15 euro cents and now it is 22. For one of the world’s poorest countries, where a third of its 17 million inhabitants suffer from food insecurity, these differences are enormous. “This is the worst year I remember. If we are already at 180% of our capacity, when the true seasonal peak begins in June I don’t know what we are going to do”, adds Ahmat, from the NGO Alima. The other four malnutrition services in N’Djamena suffer from the same problem.
The escalation in prices that Chad is suffering and is spreading throughout Africa predates the war in Ukraine and began to be felt as an effect of the trade disruptions linked to the covid-19 pandemic, but the conflict in Europe has increased it even more plus. “We already had record prices for basic foods in February, a level we had not seen since 1990, when we began to evaluate,” says Mario Zappacosta, head of the global information and early warning system of the United Nations Agency for Agriculture. and Food (FAO), “but in just two months of war in Ukraine, prices have risen a further 20% above that record level. And those who begin to suffer the most are the most vulnerable countries that suffer from conflicts or shock climatic conditions, such as droughts and floods, Yemen, Afghanistan and a score of African countries”, he explains.
That list includes the punished Sahel (Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan and South Sudan), but also Madagascar and its climate crisis, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Horn of Africa, with Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia as the most sensitive countries due to a drought that has lasted three years.
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“We are concerned that the impact will be much more noticeable at the end of 2022 due to low agricultural production. Russia is the world’s leading exporter of fertilizers and disruptions in its supply can cause a reduction in cultivated area or a drop in yields. All this will have an even greater impact on price increases”, adds Zappacosta. “If the war continues and this situation continues, it will hit all products and all countries.”
A bag and a bottle
Alimi Abali waits patiently in the shade of a stunted tree under a blazing sun. Today is the day of food aid distribution in Fourkoulom, a settlement for people displaced by the jihadist conflict near Lake Chad, and she has put on her best clothes to take her monthly bag of cereals and her jug of oil. Before, he was a merchant and the sale of fish, rice and sugar gave him a living and his family, but seven years ago, Boko Haram attacked his town and he had to leave with what he was wearing. Now it depends on humanitarian aid. When, in October, the World Food Program (WFP) halved the rations and cash they distribute to the displaced due to lack of funds for this crisis, he still had the hope of buying corn in the market local. “But it is no longer possible. The 100 kilo sack that cost 10,000 CFA francs has now been put at 30,000 (about 45 euros) and I can’t afford it”, he assures with a gesture of boredom.
A few kilometers from Fourkoulom, in a brand new yellow hospital built with international aid in the Chadian town of Liwa, little six-month-old Issa Mahamat walks a tightrope. He was admitted nine days ago weighing less than three kilos: severe acute malnutrition. His mother, Baha Mahamat, 25, left the two eldest with the family to stay with the baby, who is barely sobbing and barely breathing. Also displaced by a war that has caused half a million people in Chad to flee their homes, with no land to farm, no livestock, far from the fish that fed them, his future is uncertain. Another conflict, this time distant and foreign, has come to complicate his life even more.
On May 5, Unicef launched an alert to its international partners: the price of the Pumply Nut, the ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) that is distributed in sachets to malnourished children around the world as the small Issa Mahamat, will suffer an increase of up to 16% compared to 2021 in the coming months. According to this United Nations agency, the extreme volatility of food prices in the markets, and therefore, of the raw materials to make this nutritional supplement, and the rise in oil, energy and fertilizers, are at the origin of the problem. “More funds are needed immediately to maintain the response to nutritional emergencies,” says Unicef. The Pumply Nut was already in short supply in Chad last year; by 2022 it is feared that it will not arrive for everyone from October.
Many African countries are taking measures to deal with the exceptional rise in prices. Senegal has just approved an emergency aid of 120 euros for half a million disadvantaged families; Kenya has approved a minimum wage increase of 12% and Morocco of 10%. Despite the effort involved, these countries can afford it, but in places where conflicts and climate change are strongly felt, most states depend on foreign humanitarian aid.
According to the OECD, 27.3 million people are food insecure in the Sahel and West Africa today and that figure will rise to 40.7 million in August. The United Nations fears that another 20 million people will slide down the slope of hunger this year in the Horn of Africa, where the WFP has received only 4% of the requested funds.
“Most of what we distribute here comes from abroad, there is not enough local production to supply all the refugees and displaced by the conflict,” says Clement Watimbwa, head of this UN agency in the Chadian region of Lago, “because That is why the rise in prices is already having an impact on our aid”.
In line for her half ration, Yakoura Mahamat, in a brightly colored dress, sits on the sun-warmed sand, ready to wait as long as it takes. “I lost seven members of my family during an attack. As long as there is no security I cannot return home, but here we lack everything”. While the wind blows strongly and raises the sand, blurring the view, the farmer Blama Karimbou longs for his fertile land, his island by the lake. “I have hands to work with, but right now I only use them to pick up the food they give me. It’s unbearable,” he comments.
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