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Southern Madagascar faces drought-driven hunger, threatening millions

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Southern Madagascar is in the grip of a humanitarian catastrophe, with 1.5 million people—half the region’s population—needing immediate emergency food assistance, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned today.  Three straight years of drought have wiped out harvests and hampered people's access to food and COVID-19 is compounding their suffering.

Those experiencing “crisis” or “emergency” hunger conditions—three times the number forecast mid-year—are mostly children and women. 

Of the ten hardest-hit southern districts, Amboasary is the epicenter; families barely scrape together enough food with raw mangoes and tamarind often their only food source. Mothers  can no longer breastfeed and are forced to give their infants water which is in scarce supply. A WFP assessment in Amboasary last month found three out of four children had quit school – mostly to help their parents forage for food.

“The hunger and malnutrition we’re seeing is the result of three years of ruined harvests. Families across these drought-afflicted areas are adopting desperate measures simply to survive – selling precious belongings such as cattle, farm tools and kitchen utensils,” said Moumini Ouedraogo, WFP’s Representative in Madagascar.

In October, WFP began dispatching lentils, sorghum, fortified oil and rice for 320,000 severely food-insecure people in the 10 hardest hit districts, with hot meals for malnourished children and the elderly in Amboasary. But funding gaps mean food assistance fails to keep pace with growing needs.

“The situation in the South demands an urgent response. People are left with nothing to eat and we must support them before it is too late, but for that to happen, urgent support from donors is needed now’’ Ouedraogo said.

WFP needs $37.5 million to rapidly expand its response and prevent child malnutrition rates – already some of the highest in the world –  from worsening further. Through food and cash distributions and malnutrition prevention, WFP seeks to reach 891,000 people through next June. It will also roll out emergency school feeding, so children can continue studying—an essential key to a better future. 

With current resources, however, WFP can only reach about half-a-million people through December.

The latest hunger surge underscores the magnitude of food insecurity across Madagascar, where almost half of children under five are chronically malnourished, or physically stunted, meaning their brains and bodies may be irreversibly compromised.

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