SEATTLE — In the heart of Africa lies a country with an abundance of potential for human and economic life. Its population is growing at 3.1 percent per year and sits on an estimated 1.5 million barrels of oil reserves. Chad, however, has the world’s lowest life expectancy, with the average Chadian living 50.6 years (51.9 years for women and 49.4 years for men).
Having the world’s lowest life expectancy means receiving the lowest potential return on investment in human capital. This is the world’s toughest place to develop the potential in people. In 2015, a startling 47.7 percent of Chad’s 14 million people were under 15 years of age and almost two-thirds of Chadians subsist on less than $1.25 a day.
A Chadian mother will usually bear six children, yet one in five will not live past their fifth birthday. With fertility rates indicating some of the world’s worst overpopulation, the nation with the world’s lowest life expectancy is also the world’s third-most unsafe for mothers. Almost 9 percent of Chadian women ages 15 to 49 years die during or within 42 days after pregnancy.
Chad’s healthcare system is sparse. In 2013, only 23 percent of Chadian women had births assisted by qualified medical personnel. There are four physicians and 28 nurses and midwife personnel per 100,000 Chadians.
Living in the nation with the world’s lowest life expectancy is not limited to life itself. If enrolled in school, a Chadian youth can expect seven years of formal education, constituting their “school life expectancy.” In 2011, girls could expect six years and boys nine.
There are, however, indicators of improvement. As Chad’s population approaches 15 million this year, its one-year infant mortality rate declined from 10.2 percent in 2007 to 8.5 percent. Fertility rates have also decreased, from 6.9 children per mother in 2007 to 6.05 in 2017.
Despite coming in at the bottom 2 percent of all nations in human development, the nation with the world’s lowest life expectancy carries challenges and solutions inherent in its geography. Chad, landlocked and bordered by six nations, is subject to insurgencies by Islamic-Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram and domestic rebel forces as well as an influx of Sudanese refugees escaping conflict.
Three times the size of California, most of Chad has an arid and semi-arid desert climate. In 1960, Lake Chad, then an economic and geographic oasis, provided millions with food security via fishing, grazing and water reserves. Two generations later, Lake Chad has shrunk by 90 percent due to climate change-induced drought. Lake Chad’s resources have also diminished due to overpollution and overfishing, hurting an economy that is currently 80 percent agrarian.
Nine million people in the Lake Chad Basin, including Chadians, Cameroonians, Nigerians and Central Africans, need humanitarian aid. At the 2018 Lake Chad International Conference, Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari announced that “seven million people in the sub-region face the threat of famine and a half a million children suffer serve malnutrition.”
In the district of Bol, Dr. Adele Daleke Lisi Aluma administers polio vaccines to children by canoe on Lake Chad; 45 percent of people live in remote areas that would not otherwise receive health services. Lake Chad is currently commanding international attention from Nigeria, Italy and China; each has pitched feasibility studies for replenishing the lake. One proposal calls for a 1,600-mile canal from the Democratic Republic of Congo to the Chari River, a Lake Chad tributary.
In 2000, Chad’s oil deposits allowed it to enter the petroleum market when it struck a deal with the World Bank and ExxonMobil to develop the Chad-Cameroon Petroleum Development and Pipeline Project. The World Bank financed $140 million for the 620-mile, $4.2 billion venture.
In September 2008, the World Bank sanctioned the Chadian government for misappropriated funds and rescinded the original deal, citing that oil royalties had not been sufficiently allocated to infrastructure such as schools, roads and hospitals. The country with the world’s lowest life expectancy is instead believed to have spent oil revenue on military defense.
To the chagrin of President Déby, Chad had no direct ownership, relying on royalties and taxes, and received “crumbs” from the deal. He wants 60 percent of oil stakes. In Mach 2018, Chad expressed interest in joining OPEC, a formal gesture towards oil independence.
While one may not be responsible for the other, it is interesting to note that since the Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline was completed in 2003, life expectancy in Chad has increased from 48.5 to 50.6 years in 2017. Chad’s per capita GDP grew from $220 in 2003 to $1,024 in 2014.
Economic analyst Ali Abdel-Rahane Haggar believes that “oil had a positive impact on the quality of life of Chadians.” He claimed that the average income per year rose from $160 in 2003 to $480 in 2009. It is still questionable how oil independence and the retention of more oil revenue will redeem Chad’s status of having the world’s lowest life expectancy.
Population growth in Chad has dropped from its 2002 peak of 3.8 percent to 3.1 percent. Declines in infant mortality and fertility rates, and life expectancy rates returning to 1960 levels, portends Chad achieving a positive demographic dividend—economic growth as a result of having enough working-age adults.
– Thomas Benjamin