UN worries Chad will be the next Ethiopia

First Ethiopia claimed world attention. Now Sudan. In two months: Chad. That is the forecast of famine and relief aid insiders here who say nutrition levels are falling in Chad. This country, an expanse of sand and mainly dry land sandwiched between Sudan to the east and Niger to the west, holds about 4.4 million people.

Its northern areas are firmly in the suffering, rainless Sahel, which stretches across northern Africa from Senegal to Sudan.

Huge Lake Chad has shrunk 90 percent since 1960, new United Nations studies show. The peak flow of the Chari River has dropped by almost three-quarters.

The UN forecasts 1.5 million people short of food, and 1,000 people (mainly children) dying each month.

Chad needs $110 million worth of food urgently, the UN says.

Western diplomats say the quickest route of supply is through the port of Lagos, Nigeria, but they report that the Nigerian leader, Gen. Muhammad Buhari, flatly refused a United States request to use Lagos for aid shipments last October.

No reason was given, but some sources suspect General Buhari is unsympathetic because of injuries he received while fighting in Chad years ago.

So the US has been forced to use Port Harcourt farther south, and Douala in the Cameroon. This has caused long delays: Food unloaded in Lagos can be in the Chadian capital, N'Djamena, in six days, the UN estimates, while it takes four weeks for food to arrive from Douala.

Urgent construction is under way to build causeways across the Chari River for food convoys. The river will soon be too low for ferries to operate.

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