I have been to Chad 13 times. What brings me back — again and again — is the warmth and resilience of the people despite living in one of the world’s poorest and conflict torn countries.
They always tell me: “Don’t forget about us here in Chad,” and I always respond, “I won’t. I promise.”
My most recent trip to Chad was in March with UNICEF, where I visited Mao, a sand-swept town in the Kanem region in the far west of the country. It is the most desolate and powerfully beautiful place I have ever seen. There are no roads here. Homes are constructed of bricks made of sand and dung. The people are herders, farmers and traders.
But the rainfall last year was barely one-third of what it once was and the sands of the Sahel have been moving relentlessly over the parched Kanem region. With drought came the failure of the crops. The food stocks are gone. The camels are dying. But the real horror is that the children of Mao are at risk of dying, too.
Approximately two million people in Chad are in need of food aid — but support is falling short. Last month, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) sounded the alarm, saying that of the $11.8 million requested for agricultural emergency operations in the country, only $2 million has been mobilized. That compares with the $14.5 million FAO has raised for neighbouring Niger, also hit by severe food shortages.
“Donors are afraid of a repetition of the 2005 food crisis in Niger, when many people starved to death,” Fatouma Seid, FAO’s emergency operations expert, said in a statement. “In comparison, there’s less awareness of what’s happening in Chad, although the situation there is just as critical.”
The government of Chad and the international community must urgently respond to this crisis. The same message I hear from men, women and children who I meet when travelling through this African country, is the same message I urge the world to hear: “Don’t forget about the people of Chad.”