Story and photos by David Orr
Three consecutive years of drought and failed harvests have left the south of Madagascar facing one of its worst crises of recent times.
An estimated 1.2 million people — two out of three people in the area — are food insecure, not knowing where their next meal will come from, and the number of severely food-insecure people is expected to increase from November.
With domestic food stocks dwindling fast, families are being forced into desperate measures such as begging and selling their clothes, kitchen utensils and even their land. Many are migrating in search of food and work, and four in ten families have already eaten their vital seed stocks, leaving nothing for the November-December planting season.
The World Food Programme’s (WFP)’s Executive Director Ertharin Cousin visited the country in early October.
“The situation is extremely worrying,” she said. “I met women who told me they had nothing to feed their babies except the fruit of the red cactus growing by the roadside.”
As drought deepens the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people in the south of Madagascar, WFP is working to provide a lifeline to people affected, stepping up its assistance to stop more people falling into severe food insecurity.
With adequate funding, and in support of the Madagascar government’s own humanitarian response, WFP will step up its activities from November to reach 1 million people with food and cash assistance.
Where markets are working, cash transfers are the preferred option for delivering assistance — as they allow people to choose their own food and help to boost the local economy.
WFP is also expanding it nutrition programme to prevent and treat acute malnutrition among more than 200,000 pregnant women, nursing mothers and children under 5. Some southern areas show global acute malnutrition (GAM) rates of above 15 percent — the World Health Organization emergency threshold.
When food is scarce, social safety nets like school meals are vital. WFP is currently providing a daily hot meal to 230,000 primary school children — which represents 42 percent of primary school students in the south.
WFP plans to reach even more children with its school meals programme from early 2017, through working with the Government of Madagascar, UNICEF, the World Bank and other partners.
WFP’s ability to meet the growing needs in southern Madagascar will depend on securing funding.
“This funding will also allow us to invest in people’s livelihoods,” said the Executive Director , “so we don’t just save lives, but change lives, and break the cycle of emergency response.”