The Republic of Chad, situated between Niger to the west and Sudan to the east, will be celebrating nearly half a century of independence in a month. But this central African country with its beautiful Saharan sandstones and wealth of wildlife does not have much to celebrate. The constant revolts by armed militants and wars with neighbouring and distant countries have left the people poverty stricken and starved for nutritious food, and peace.
How the state of affairs transgressed to this level is not a surprising matter considering the fact that even though the country is rich in oil, gold and uranium, it is known as one of the most corrupt nations of the world. This status was elevated even more by the president, Idriss Déby, who came to power in 1990. In a deal with World Bank to construct a pipeline connecting the oil fields in Chad with neighbouring Cameroon, President Déby grudgingly agreed to spend 70% of the income derived from oil revenues on education and improving the quality of life. Yet, half the country’s population remains sadly uneducated, and the rest are battling for survival.
Anti-government insurgents in most parts of eastern Chad have captured the attention of the government and humanitarian aid organisations, although survivability for volunteers is uncertain due to attacks by these rebel groups. The number of Sudanese refugees from the war-stricken area of Darfur has only increased over the past years and stands at nearly 300,000. They are joined by over 150,000 internally displaced civilians. At a time where life expectancy hovers around 50 years of age, the quality of life has fallen below tolerable levels. In such a situation, the state of children has been upmost in the minds of humanitarian aid organisations active in Chad.
As outlined by the latest statistics from twelve refugee camps scattered in the east, children have no means of continuing their education beyond the eighth grade, except informally. Nearly one-third of them work a 7-10 hour period daily and often older children have to give up the meagre chances for studies to look after their younger siblings. About 15% have various disabilities and, though resilient, children still bear emotional disturbances from the numerous cruelties they have suffered. Orphaned children experience physical and sexual abuse, and young girls have been found most vulnerable to sexual abuse and teenage pregnancies. Underage boys stand much risk to being recruited into the Chadian army and paramilitary forces, as also into rebel groups.
Although most humanitarian aid organisations such as Oxfam, MSF Holland, IRD, etc. have concentrated on the war-stricken eastern areas, it is the western region of Chad that is most in need of attention. Kanem, a region in the west just above Lake Chad, has the highest chronic malnutrition level in the whole country. Chronic malnutrition occurs over a period of years as a result of inadequate diet and is considered more life-threatening than severe malnutrition. Children suffering from chronic malnutrition are more at risk for premature death, lowered immunodeficiency system and stunted growth. Poor sanitation and eating practices and weaning habits of babies by the mothers have left the young under 3 years with the highest malnutrition levels. In the light of these statistics, aid organizations and NGOs that had earlier quit these regions for the crisis hit east are returning to set up camp. They may already be too late if OCHA’s prediction that food, medicine and water would only last four weeks turns out to be true.
The disintegrating state of Chad can only be alleviated if the government started to take a stronger interest in its people than its oil industry. Negotiations with rebel groups may help ease the amount of attacks, as it did a few years ago when hundreds of rebel soldiers were recruited into the national army. Unless something is done, either with or without the help of the humanitarian organizations active in the country, the people of Chad may not have a future to look forward to.