Chad: People forced to pay a heavy price for harsh austerity measures

• Health budget slashed by over 50 per cent in four years• Students forced to choose between classes and work
• Anti-austerity protesters repressed and arrested, some tortured

A host of austerity measures implemented by the Chadian authorities is pushing people into deeper poverty, undermining access to necessary health care and putting education beyond the reach of many, Amnesty International said in a new report published today.

Strangled budgets, silenced dissent: The human cost of austerity measures in Chad’ documents the impact of drastic spending cuts on the rights to health and education. It also charts the government’s crackdown on protesters and activists opposed to the austerity measures implemented in response to an on-going economic crisis.

We spoke to pregnant women who were forced to delay important ante-natal health checks because they couldn’t afford to pay for these crucial services. We also met students whose bright futures have been thrown into doubt because their scholarships were withdrawn without advance notice

Samira Daoud, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for West and Central Africa

“We spoke to pregnant women who were forced to delay important ante-natal health checks because they couldn’t afford to pay for these crucial services. We also met students whose bright futures have been thrown into doubt because their scholarships were withdrawn without advance notice,” said Samira Daoud, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for West and Central Africa.

“The Chadian government must recognize the cruelty of these austerity measures, and that an economic crisis is no excuse for undermining people’s rights, including the rights to health and education. The government must also stop repressing and silencing those who dare to express criticism of these harsh measures.”

The Chadian government started to implement severe austerity measures in 2015 following an economic crisis linked to the sharp fall in the price of crude oil, exacerbated by a lack of economic diversification. International financial institutions who loaned the government money during the crisis made their assistance contingent on general spending cuts. This steered the government towards policies that have undermined people’s economic, social and cultural rights including the rights to education and the right to health of thousands of people.

Amnesty International spoke to 176 people including government officials in the capital N’Djamena, and several other cities like like Massaguet, Massakori and Sarh, and visited 32 health facilities in eight regions.

A local health officer from the Sarh Regional Sanitary Delegation told Amnesty International that the government had reduced funds to different health facilities by two thirds in 2017: “Resources are rare … It is difficult to implement activities on the ground.”

Chad’s health budget was slashed by over 50 per cent from 2013 to 2017. Items such as subsidies and credit lines to hospitals were reduced.

The cuts in health spending have also reduced expenditure on the national emergency healthcare programme by 70 per cent, which was set up in 2006 with the aim of meeting the costs of emergency care in hospitals, including childbirth and obstetric and neonatal care.

For example, Alain a 40-year-old driver said he spent US$ 41-representing the third of the monthly minimum wage in Chad which is US$ 113- – when his wife gave birth to their son in October 2017.

He told Amnesty International:

“My pregnant wife did not benefit from the free emergency healthcare programme, despite being entitled to it. I paid for everything including tests, gloves, a plastic sheet for the delivery bed and drugs. There was no such thing as free emergency healthcare. We paid for everything. They did not give us anything free other than the vaccines for my new-born. Before, we would have gotten these things for free. Now, we have to pay for them.”

Amnesty International also spoke to 12 pregnant women, some of whom had walked up to 15km to reach a health centre. They were all around five to six months pregnant, and every woman, except for one, was attending her first ante-natal check-up. When asked why they waited so long for a check-up, the women said they did not have the money to pay for ante-natal care.

“Our research indicates that following the austerity measures, the minimum core content of the right to health is no longer protected. There is no justification for undermining the minimum, essential levels of the right to health even during an economic crisis,” said Samira Daoud.

The report also documents regular shortages of essential drugs and products such as paracetamol and disinfectants, including alcohol, in health facilities.

Education is another major casualty of the government’s spending cuts. Between 2014 and 2016, the Chadian authorities cut spending on education by 21 per cent as part of their austerity measures.

Scholarships of US$ 53 per month and per student were withdrawn for all university students, except those in medical and national vocational schools.

The fee to register in public universities was also doubled to US$ 94 in October 2017, while introducing a re-registration fee of US$ 53 for returning students. The registration fee was subsidized by the government before.

As a result, many students interviewed by Amnesty International expressed fears they would be forced to drop out of university as the government did not put in place alternatives, especially for economically vulnerable students and those who come from rural areas.

Some students have found part-time jobs for which they often miss classes in order to make ends meet.

Mamadou, a student at N’Djamena University, told Amnesty International that since his scholarship was cancelled, he can no longer afford to buy books and food from the university canteen or renew his subscription to the library.

“This situation has forced me six months ago to look for a job. I now drive a motorcycle taxi. I rent the bike at a rate of 3,000 CFA francs per day (US$6) … And very often, I have to choose between my classes or the work that allows me to support myself. It is very difficult because I cannot study as I used before.”

Recently, on top of a reduction of civil servants’ benefits by 50 per cent, the government made additional reforms to widen the tax base. New items of public servants’ salaries, which were not taxed until 2018, were taxed. These reductions combined with the rising tax on basic commodities and increased cost of living have made it difficult for public sector workers to support their family members.

A teacher told Amnesty International that following the new tax measures, his total net monthly salary including benefits and bonuses had fallen by 37 per cent to US$385 a month in 2016.

Anti-austerity protests quashed

Dozens of anti-austerity protests took place across main Chadian cities, including the capital N’Djamena, between January and March 2018. All the protests but one were repressed by security forces who fired tear gas at demonstrators, arrested more than 150 people including students and children and tortured at least two anti-austerity activists. The authorities have accused demonstrators of stoning police officers and destroying public administration and private cars.

Alain Didah Kemba, spokesperson of the youth movement IYINA was arrested on 19 February and taken into custody at the N’Djamena Police headquarters. According to the Police spokesperson, Alain Kemba Didah was arrested because a police commander had alleged seeing him with a bottle of gasoline in his hand and about to burn a pile of tyres. Alain has denied this allegation.

Alain told Amnesty International that he was tortured by police officers, including their supervisor, who beat him on the soles of his feet and joints. Alain said that he was forced to move from a room to another with his legs tied up to his hands behind him. He said the police accused him of leading protests against austerity measures. A few days later, he was released on bail for medical reasons and on 26 February, all charges against him were dropped.

Amnesty International is calling on the Chadian government to take immediate steps to address the impact of austerity measures on economic, social and cultural rights, including people’s rights to health and education. Authorities must also end the rampant violations of the people’s rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.