Three years of drought and a sharp recession caused by COVID-19 have left a third of Southern Madagascar’s population unable to put food on the table. Extreme malnutrition rates are on the rise and many children are having to beg to help families survive. Immediate action is needed to avert this humanitarian crisis in Madagascar.
Food Insecurity and Malnutrition
In southern Madagascar, the situation has been progressively worsening. The number of people needing humanitarian assistance has doubled to 1.3 million due to “famine-like conditions.” The World Food Programme (WFP) stated that successive droughts and a lack of jobs linked to COVID-19 restrictions are to blame. With 300,000 people in need of safe-living support, governments and humanitarian organizations need to act immediately. Weary communities have few resources to fall back on.
Furthermore, many people have had to leave their homes to search for food and job opportunities. Approximately 1.14 million people, or 35% of Madagascar’s population, are food insecure. This figure is nearly double what it was last year due to the second wave of COVID-19. The pandemic resulted in fewer seasonal employment opportunities between January and April 2021, which affected families relying on this form of income.
Children are the most vulnerable to the food crisis. Many children have dropped out of school to beg for food on the streets. By the end of April 2021, more than 135,00 children were estimated to be acutely malnourished in some way, with 27,000 children between the ages of 6 to 59 months suffering from severe acute malnourishment.
According to the WFP, Madagascar’s susceptibility to climate shocks is contributing to the ongoing crisis. A WFP official stated that rains usually fall between November and December. However, the entire area only received one day of rain in December 2020. Thunderstorms have also been wreaking havoc on the fields, destroying and burying the crops.
With markets closed because of COVID-19 restrictions and people forced to sell their possessions to survive, the U.N. warned that drought conditions are expected to persist well into 2021. The anticipated conditions are forcing more people to flee their homes in search of food and jobs. WFP South Africa and Indian Ocean State Region Director Lola Castro explained that “the population of the South relies on casual labor and goes to urban areas or to the fields to really have additional funds that will allow them to survive during the lean season.” However, she noted that “this year there was no labor, they moved around without finding any labor anywhere, both in urban areas or in the rural areas, due to the drought and due to the COVID lockdown.”
Humanitarian organizations delivered assistance across the Grand Sud, the southernmost region of Madagascar, between January and March 2021. Organizations supplied food aid to 700,000 people and improved access to drinking water, sanitation and hygiene for 167,200 people. Furthermore, 93,420 children and pregnant and lactating mothers received dietary care and services. The WFP also provided food assistance to almost 500,000 severely food insecure people in the nine hardest-hit districts in the south. Given the rapidly deteriorating situation, it intends to scale up its assistance to reach almost 900,000 of the most vulnerable by June 2021.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and persistent droughts, the humanitarian crisis in Madagascar is worsening. The country needs more support to fund lifesaving food and cash distributions as well as malnutrition treatment programs. Moving forward, it is essential that the government and humanitarian organizations make addressing the humanitarian crisis in Madagascar a priority.
– Aining Liang