Southern Madagascar at risk of famine amid worst drought in 40 years

UN agencies are urgently calling for international support as a million Madagascans go hungry, with some surviving on insects and wild roots.

By Chloé Farand
Published by Climate Change News

Southern Madagascar is in crisis with more than a million people facing acute food insecurity as the region suffers its worst drought in four decades.

The World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) are pleading for help from the international community, warning that 14,000 people are facing famine and that “lives are at stake as hunger tightens its grip” in the region.

For the first time since a methodology to rank food security threats was introduced in 2016, people have been recorded in the “catastrophe” category – the highest level of the five-step scale describing people who have exhausted their coping strategies.

In the space of a few months, the situation has worsened “in an exponential manner,” Theodore Mbainaissem, head of WFP’s Ambovombe office, in southern Madagascar, told Climate Home News. The future looks “even more catastrophic,” he added.

Swathes of the population on the island’s most southern areas have resorted to eating insects, wild roots, and a mixture of white clay with tamarind juice, he said.

“These are foods that are not at all nutritious but people are eating them just to fill them up and not die of hunger,” Mbainaissem said.

The crisis is hitting children hardest, who are not getting the necessary nutrients to develop properly. In some villages, dozens of deaths have been recorded, Mbainaissem added.

Five of the last six years have seen below average rainfall in the southern tip of the country. The severity of the current drought has not been seen since 1981 and has been building over the last three years.

This year’s harvest of crops such as rice, maize, cassava and pulses is expected to be less than half the five-year average, according to the WFP and FAO.

Climate change is expected to increase the frequency of extreme weather events in Madagascar, such as droughts in the southwest and cyclones in the south east of the country.

Projections show the south of the country is most vulnerable to rising temperatures, reduced rainfall in the dry season and increased variability in the distribution of rainfall – a combination that adds to food security challenges.

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