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Malnutrition afflicts displaced children in camps in eastern Chad

© UNICEF Chad/2007/Helali
Safia and her baby Nanylta at the health clinic in Koubigou Camp, eastern Chad.

By Brigitte Hilali

KOUBIGOU CAMP, Chad, 5 July 2007 – The numbers keep growing, and growing fast. In 2004 there were 130,000; today, 240,000 Sudanese are in neighbouring Chad, having fled the fighting in the Darfur region of Sudan.

But the violence knows no borders. Raids and banditry have unleashed a humanitarian disaster that is engulfing eastern Chad and has forced another 200,000 people to leave their villages and seek security in camps.
At Koubigou Camp, women and children arrive daily to escape ethnic violence and bandit attacks. Even here, security cannot always be guaranteed. But it is better than what they have left. Grouped together, they live in huts that are basic at best, while food, water and medical services are in short supply.

© UNICEF Chad/2007/Helali
A malnourished child cries at a therapeutic feeding centre in the Chadian district health centre of Goz Beida.

Hard hit by malnutrition

Safia, 42, is a mother of five. She enters the clinic in Koubigou with her baby, Nanylta, and sits down on the bench. She is very worried and explains that the little girl was up all night with fever and diarrhoea.

A woman who already faced poverty and an uncertain life, Safia is now even more vulnerable and dependent on aid because of an attack that destroyed her village and killed her husband. She and her children, along with other survivors of the Janjaweed militia attack, walked 50 km in fierce heat to get to the camp.

The nurse sees that the baby is suffering from severe malnutrition and needs to be treated urgently. At nine months of age, she weighs just over 2 kg – nearly 5 kg less that she should be.

“In this area, one child out of five is suffering from acute malnutrition,” the nurse explains. “We receive a lot of mothers with their children here. When they arrive we check the circumference of the arm as well as their weight and height. If the ratio of weight to height is under 70 per cent, the children are treated in therapeutic feeding centres.”

© UNICEF Chad/2007/Helali
Koubigou Camp is one of the many camps in eastern Chad that shelter those fleeing the chaos on the border with Sudan.

More help needed

One major problem, the nurse adds, is that mothers of undernourished children often don’t want to go to the feeding centre immediately.

“They have to find someone first to look after their other children and some do not actually come back,” she says. “It is difficult for them when they have lost a husband and perhaps others who would usually help out.”

Nanylta, at least, receives the special feeding and begins the therapeutic programme right away. Therapeutic feeding centres supported by UNICEF have treated more than 600 children to date, and the agency has provided supplies for 45,000 others.

In addition, UNICEF supplies essential drugs, basic equipment, support and training for health workers, as well as supplementary foods such as Unimix, a fortified flour, and Plumpy’nut, a vitamin-rich peanut paste. Still, much more needs to be done to help those suffering from the humanitarian crisis in eastern Chad – a crisis that is spilling over borders and claiming innocent lives.



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