Madagascar’s worst drought in 40 years has left more than a million people facing a year of desperate food shortages. According to the UN’s food agency, the number of people suffering from hunger has risen by about 85% on last year because of the accumulative effects of years of drought and people having to sell livestock and belongings to buy food.
According to the Famine Early Warning System Network, most poor families have to rely on foraging for wild foods and leaves that are difficult to eat and can be dangerous for children and pregnant women. Aid agencies have reported people eating termites and mixing clay with tamarind.
The south of the island will produce less than half its usual harvest in the coming months because of low rains, prolonging a hunger crisis already affecting half the Grand Sud area’s population, the UN estimates.
Julie Reversé, emergency coordinator in Madagascar for Médecins Sans Frontières, said: “Without rain, they will not be able to return to the fields and feed their families. And some do not hesitate to say that it is death that awaits them if the situation does not change, and the rain does not fall.”
The UN World Food Programme says acute malnutrition in children under five has almost doubled over the past four months in most districts in the south. Ambovombe has the highest rates.
It said: “Over 1.1 million people are in high acute food insecurity due to insufficient rainfall, rising food prices and sandstorms. The lean season is expected to begin earlier than usual for the current consumption year, as households will deplete their low food stocks due to minimal production.”
Reversé said MSF staff are also noticing other illnesses in the areas they work in, including bilharzia (a waterborne disease caused by parasitic flatworms), diarrhoea, malaria and respiratory infections. They said the illnesses were caused by malnutrition, as well as a lack of clean water.