WFP Geneva Palais Briefing Note: World Food Programme warns of looming famine in southern Madagascar
GENEVA - I’m currently in Madagascar. I arrived a couple of days ago to see first-hand the deteriorating humanitarian situation in southern Madagascar. The issue is no longer about how bad it is - it is extremely bad.
Famine looms in southern Madagascar as communities witness an almost total disappearance of food sources which has created a full-blown nutrition emergency. People have had to resort to desperate survival measures such as eating locusts, raw red cactus fruits or wild leaves.
At least 1.35 million people need emergency food and nutrition assistance and have been suffering from hunger since the start of the lean season last September (IPC December 2020). The lives of children are at stake as the nutrition situation in under-fives deteriorates to alarming levels. Most of the southern districts are in a nutrition emergency as acute malnutrition has almost doubled over the last 4 months, increasing from 9% to 16%. (Ministry of Health Survey, March 2021)
In some districts it has reached even worse than the alarming 16% to almost 27%. So, the average is 16% across all districts but in couple of districts it’s almost 27%. Some of the reasons behind all of this is in the past five years we’ve had consecutive droughts, climate shocks, economic deterioration but also this year we had unexpected sandstorms that basically rendered many of the agricultural lands not available (or fit) for farming. In addition, we had very little rains, late rains and today the expectations of the harvest is going to be at almost 40% below the 5 year average. So it tells you how bad the situation is and WFP has been responding with partners and trying to minimize the impact but due to lack of resources we have been providing only half rations across the community up to the tune of 750,000 people.
The main urban centers which have been receiving displaced population due to food insecurity and malnutrition are Ambovombe, Amboasary, and Fort Dauphin (up to 3,000 people of which 80 percent were women and children reached Fort Dauphin in the last months).
But what I witnessed yesterday again with members of the diplomatic community and the international community and members of the government is horrific images of starving and malnourished children, mothers, parents and the population in the villages we visited - Ankiliabo in the Ambovombe district. The situation has extremely, extremely worsened, scary. They are on the periphery of famine and these are images that I haven’t seen for quite some time from across the globe.
Now, we need to stop the deterioration and for that we need the resources yesterday. Because in order to turn resources into food into the mouth of people it will take some time. The infrastructure is extremely bad. It takes forever to get cargo into Madagascar and then from the ports into affected areas given that how large the area is and how dispersed the population are.
I would urge everybody to try and help with the situation – it has extremely worsened. When heads of households, when mothers start selling their cooking utensils – this is the sign we are reaching the point of no return. I would urge for everybody’s assistance in this crisis.
The writing is on the wall, the images are horrific and what I saw with my own eyes tells me that we are heading towards a disaster and we need to stop that. We are asking for US$75 million immediately to cover the needs over the next few months. What we have in place today is sufficient up to July at half ration and that’s not going to be enough. Half ration is basically that you are sustaining, and you are not alleviating the suffering. And we need USD 75 million immediately.
In normal circumstances, with relatively good infrastructure, usually to turn cash, confirmed contributions into food in the mouth of people usually takes three to five months. The situation has extremely worsened, the urgency is there so we will put all our efforts to be able to move and deliver once we have the contributions. But we need the contributions yesterday – each day we are late means we are not going with food and nutrition distributions to the affected population.
The infrastructure is almost non-existent. Yesterday to travel from where we arrived in the Ambovombe district to the village of Ankiliabo took us one hour and a half by car - totally off road. So, you can imagine the distance and the remoteness of the villages.
In some of these villages, in many of these villages, as you all know, basically, if a child dies, they bury the child, there is no reporting on these numbers. Same thing with grownups. We are already witnessing whole villages shutting down and moving to urban centres. This puts pressure on an already fragile food security situation. People are sick. This response isn’t only about food and nutrition, it’s very much about health, very much about water, it’s all hands-on deck.
Unfortunately, I have come across many dire situations in my life. What the images I saw yesterday are up there in terms of the severity and how shocking it is. However, I want to highlight in almost 30 years of doing emergencies and humanitarian work, I think from where I sit, from the kind of global view I have the situation now is bad globally.
I saw starving children, absolutely, absolutely skin and bones, stunting … when we asked some of the mothers how is the situation, how are they coping, they get the supplementary feeding we provide to children and mothers – they said they’ve resorted to selling their cooking utensils. They have nothing. They are destitute. It’s not like there is a coping mechanism because it is affecting a swath of villages. This is what I saw. I had one mother with a 7-8 month old child who looked like he was 2 months old. She told me that she lost a child just last week. The situation is really bad. The remoteness of these villages, the accessibility problem is hindering us from transmitting all these images globally, but the writing is on the wall. It is very clear how disturbing the situation is.
Please find images of the situation in southern Madagascar here
# # #
The United Nations World Food Programme is the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. We are the world’s largest humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters, and the impact of climate change.
Follow us on Twitter @wfp_media, @amer_daoudi, @PhiriTomson