“330,000 people one step from famine in Madagascar drought”
USA - The severe drought afflicting southern Madagascar has left 330,000 people on the brink of famine, a senior UN official has warned.
Three successive years of failed rains have left the island nation wrestling with crop failure and a chronic lack of food and clean drinking water, with agencies warning last month that nearly 850,000 people are experiencing alarming hunger levels. “Three hundred and thirty thousand are on the verge of a food security catastrophe, next step being famine”, said Dominique Burgeon, director of emergencies and rehabilitation at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). “People go from one lean season to the next, resorting to negative coping strategies. People are eating anything to fill their stomachs, selling most of their belongings, cattle and land. It shows the severity of the situation and the need for us to act”. Farmers talk of the earth changing; of failed rains and crops, and barren land. Meanwhile, agencies are fighting a desperate rearguard action. Unicef, the UN children’s agency, reports growing demand for the high-calorie, peanut-based paste used to combat severe acute malnutrition. “People are living under extreme conditions. We are dealing with a development crisis that has lasted for decades now, worsened by El Niño. For many, it is day-to-day survival”, said Elke Wisch, country representative for Unicef Madagascar. Wisch emphasised the need to build resilience in the disaster-prone country, where food production has all but ground to a halt as the El Niño weather phenomenon exacerbates the effects of the drought. Yet mounting any kind of response is complicated by huge funding shortfalls. The World Food Programme’s (WFP) operations across seven countries in southern Africa are only 50% funded between now and April, with the total deficit at roughly $300m. The FAO is also struggling, with a $17.5m shortfall limiting the distribution of emergency packages to 75,000 of the the 175,000 farming households in need. Appealing for further donations, both organisations have stressed the importance of the forthcoming planting season. “If we miss planting season, the need for food assistance could go into March 2018”, warned Burgeon.
Poor infrastructure makes it difficult to get assistance to remote areas of the south, with journeys of more than 200km likely to take days by road. (theguardian)
A child collects her family’s drinking water from a muddy puddle in the middle of the road (Photo: USAID/Madagascar)