With around two million people including women and children currently being threatened by the fangs of death because of famine ravaging Southern Madagascar, the country without the doubt, is indeed, in the grip of a humanitarian catastrophe.
This African country that was previously known as the Malagasy Republic is in need of immediate emergency food assistance. Already, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is warning that if nothing is done urgently hunger will short-circuit the lives of that number of people.
Three straight years of drought have wiped out harvests and hampered people’s access to food and COVID-19 is compounding their suffering.
Southern Madagascar is very rich in wildlife, diverse in scenery, and abounds with culture. It is an island country in the Indian Ocean, approximately 400 kilometres off the coast of East Africa. At 592,800 square kilometres Madagascar is the world’s second-largest island country.
The country comprises the island of Madagascar Madagascar (the fourth-largest island in the world) and numerous smaller peripheral islands. Wikipedia says Madagascar split from the Indian subcontinent around 88 million years ago, allowing native plants and animals to evolve in relative isolation.
Consequently, Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot over 90% of its wildlife is found nowhere else on Earth. The island’s diverse ecosystems and unique wildlife are threatened by the encroachment of the rapidly growing human population and other environmental threats.
Until the late 18th century, the island of Madagascar was ruled by a fragmented assortment of shifting sociopolitical alliances. Beginning in the early 19th century, most of the island was united and ruled as the Kingdom of Madagascar by a series of Merina nobles.
The monarchy ended in 1897 when the island was absorbed into the French colonial empire, from which the island gained independence in 1960. The autonomous state of Madagascar has since undergone four major constitutional periods, termed republics.
Since 1992, the nation has officially been governed as a constitutional democracy from its capital at Antananarivo. However, in a popular uprising in 2009, president Marc Ravalomanana was made to resign and presidential power was transferred in March 2009 to Andry Rajoelina. Constitutional governance was restored in January 2014, when Hary Rajaonarimampianina was named president following a 2013 election deemed fair and transparent by the international community.
As of 2017, the economy has been weakened by the 2009–2013 political crisis, and quality of life remains low for the majority of the Malagasy population.
In the mean time, victims of drought, poor governance, predatory businesses, rural banditry, hundreds of thousands of people are acutely malnourished and in desperate need of food relief. Locals say at least 15 people have starved to death, including several children, but experts believe the real figure could be much higher. The authorities have been caught off guard by the disastrous situation.
Those experiencing “crisis” or “emergency” hunger conditions—three times the number forecast mid-year—are mostly children and women.
Of the 10 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.
WFP’s Representative in Madagascar, Moumini Ouedraogo, says “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.”
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.
Continuing, Ouedraogo said, “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.’’
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.
WFP is however, the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. It is the world’s largest humanitarian organisation, saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.