The United States is giving $3 million in emergency food aid to the World Food Program to try to prevent widespread famine in southern Madagascar. The United Nations agency predicts 720,000 people in three regions could be severely affected in the next few months by a drought and lack of basic resources.
U.S. Agency for International Development Director for Madagascar Rudolph Thomas said the United States is responding to the World Food Program's emergency appeal. "They are in their second year of a two year drought, and so it is very very dry, and when you look out at the land it is very barren and there is very little grass. There is an occasional tree off in the distance. In fact, where there were river beds it is just bone dry. There is no water."
WFP Madagascar Representative Krystyna Bednarska said the number of food insecure districts had increased from 31 to 53 in two years. In addition to drought, the area faced cyclones and locust infestations.
Bednarska said reports during the past two months of people eating crop seeds, selling their goods and migrating pointed to widespread famine by March. She said in some areas 80 percent of the main crop corn had already failed
"People have since the beginning of the lean season in October adopted negative coping strategies; consuming their own seeds, consuming food products that are inappropriate for their health," said Bednarska. "Signals that the migration of the men to find jobs in other areas has started, leaving women and children in even more difficult situations, alone in this area."
The U.N. Childrens Fund Representative for Madagascar, Bruno Maes, said more than half the country's children were already affected from a poor diet. "If UNICEF and its partners are not able to provide a humanitarian response to avoid a major food security and nutritional crisis, 300,000 children under five in these affected areas are at risk of severe acute malnutrition. Just over 50 percent of Madagascar's children are stunted as a result of chronic malnutrition. It is worse only in Afghanistan and Yemen."
Maes said UNICEF is concerned massive cuts to heath care, plus the predicted famine, will have serious consequences for the health of local residents next year. More than half the area's health centers will have to close in two weeks when UNICEF funding runs out.