Hunger is on the rise in southern Madagascar due to consecutive years of drought, affecting half the region’s population or 1.5 million people, and forcing most families to eat insects, the World Food Programme (WFP) reported in Geneva, Switzerland, on Friday.
The figure is three times the number projected mid-year, with women and children comprising most of those experiencing “crisis” or “emergency” hunger conditions.
The UN agency pointed out that Madagascar already has the world’s 10th highest rate of stunting, as almost half of all children under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition.
“As hunger numbers rise, so does the proportion of families who are resorting to crisis-coping mechanisms. The majority of them are having to eat bugs. They are selling off lifesaving livelihood assets, farm implements, kitchen utensils,” said Tomson Phiri, a WFP spokesperson in Geneva.
Hunger and malnutrition stem from three years of ruined harvests, hampering access to food and affecting people across 10 districts.
WFP has described the situation as “extremely worrying”.
A UN statement said last month that the WFP conducted an assessment in Amboasary, the hardest-hit district, which revealed that three-quarters of children were forced to drop out of school so they could help their families forage for food.
“Most of the women that we spoke to said they had nothing to feed their young children except the red cactus pears that grow on the roadside,” said Phiri.
As part of its drought response, WFP began life-saving emergency food assistance in September, reaching more than 100,000 people in Amboasary.
This support has included in-kind food distributions and also hot meals for particularly malnourished children and elderly persons.
Some 576,000 people in nine other districts are also receiving assistance during the lean season, which runs through December.
Phiri said, given the gravity of the situation, the agency planned to continue scaling up operations through next June.
“We additionally seek to help the challenges that are being faced by rural women, who often are prevented from owning land and agricultural assets, as well as face discriminatory customary practices,” he added.
The statement said WFP was appealing to the international community for US$37.5 million so it could continue response efforts. (PANA/NAN)