ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar (AP) – Dried up by four years of drought, more than 1.1 million people in southern Madagascar are in urgent need of food aid in a rapidly worsening crisis, experts warn.
Some 700,000 people are already receiving food aid and increased emergency aid is needed, according to WFP, which works with the Malagasy government and other humanitarian organizations.
“Harvests are constantly failing, so people have nothing to harvest and their food supplies to replenish,” said Alice Rahmoun, WFP communications officer in Madagascar.
According to Amnesty International, more than 90% of the population in Madagascar’s “Deep South” region live below the poverty line, which makes families extremely vulnerable.
“All aid agencies are working together to prevent this crisis from turning into famine,” Jean-Benoît Manhes, UNICEF deputy in Madagascar, told The Associated Press.
“But we are seeing a deterioration that will require more resources,” he said. “To give you an idea, in July and August 14,000 children were treated for severe acute malnutrition. That’s usually the number we cover in a whole year. “
The four consecutive years of drought have destroyed crops and depleted the food reserves of the farming communities in “Grand Sud” or Great South Madagascar, he said.
Southern Madagascar is used to dry seasons, usually May through October, known as Kere in the Malagasy language, when the fields are dry and food is scarce, but it’s much worse this year, local farmers say.
The soil is so hard that it is difficult to grow corn, rice, and cassava, which are traditionally started in November.
“At the moment it is impossible to grow here,” says Nathier Ramanavotse, 68, Mayor of Maroalomainty in the extreme south of Madagascar.
“It rained a little last week, but it is not enough for cultivation. We used to grow a lot of maize here, but the harvest has been out for four years. It’s just getting worse, “he said.
“There is no other job here to make money,” said Ramanavotse. “We suffer a lot … many of us have eaten our seeds because it’s the only thing we can eat at home. It is an unbearable temptation to be hungry.”
Lately the area has been hit by intense sand winds, called “Tiomena” in Malagasy, which means red winds. The sandstorms devoured and ruined the early crops that were grown, farmers say.
“All the trees in the area have been felled and there is nothing left to stop the wind,” said Ramanavotse. In the country’s interior, many farmers have turned to tree felling and coal mining to survive, he said.
Many families have tried desperately to survive, residents say.
“When we run out of money, we eat cactus leaves or tubers,” says Liafara, who has only one name. “In this kere we eat things whose names we don’t even know have to dig in the Mandrare River, which is currently very dry, which requires a lot of work.”
The mother of five, Liafara, 37, said it was difficult to extend her meal to support her family.
“When we have a little money, we buy rice to eat in the evening. We boil it with lots of water to share with all of us, ”she said. “But we often cannot sleep at night. We just toss around in bed because we’re hungry. “
The family lives in Amboasary-Atsimo, the epicenter of extreme food shortages, where 14,000 people are in catastrophic conditions according to the latest statistics from the Integrated Phase Classification of the World Food Program.
“Like everyone in the village, my children are very weak. At the moment they no longer go to school because they are hungry and unable to concentrate. We sell what we have to eat at home. We have run out of furniture. We even sold the door to our house for some cash, “she said.
“Last week when the rain fell a little, I sold my plates to buy seeds,” she said. “Goats and zebus (cows), we sold them a long time ago.”
According to the Integrated Food Security Classification Framework, more than 500,000 children under the age of five in the extreme south of Madagascar are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition by April 2022. Of these, more than 110,000 are already suffering from severe acute malnutrition and require urgent action.
The Portuguese charity Brotherhood Without Borders has set up 14 feeding centers in the Androy region to feed malnourished children and provide emergency care.
“The situation is not improving at all,” said Felly Zihal, coordinator of the group program in southern Madagascar. “There are cases of children who practically run out of meat. There is only the skeleton and the skin. “