The United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) has appealed for emergency aid of $35m to fight hunger in southern Madagascar, hit by the coronavirus pandemic and a third consecutive year of drought.
“Some 1.35 million people are projected to be food insecure – 35 percent of the region’s population,” the WFP said in a statement on Tuesday.
“With severe malnutrition rates continuing to spiral and many children forced to beg in order to help their families eat, urgent action is required to prevent a humanitarian crisis.”
The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the hit from a long-term drought, it said.
Seasonal employment has dried up, affecting rural families who saved this income to help them through the lean season, which peaks between January and April.
“To survive, families are eating tamarind fruit mixed with clay,” the statement quoted Moumini Ouedraogo, WFP’s Madagascar representative, as saying.
“We can’t face another year like this. With no rain and a poor harvest, people will face starvation. No one should have to live like this.”
The WFP currently provides food aid for almost half a million people in the nine hardest-hit districts in the south of the island, and intends to ramp this up to nearly 900,000 by June.
It is seeking 29 million euros ($35m) for emergency food and malnutrition programmes, including an initiative to feed schoolchildren so that they can stay in class rather than leave to seek work or beg.
“When I can’t go begging in the neighbouring village, we have to dig under this sand without being sure we’ll find anything,” said Ikemba, a resident of Ambovombe District, as she described her daily search for food.
“When we don’t find anything under the sand, we drink seawater. It is bad for our health, but we have no choice,” she continued.
Malnutrition rates in the region have risen, forcing children to beg so they can help their families buy food supplies.
About three-quarters of the country’s 25 million people live in poverty.