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WFP: Madagascar in Urgent Need of Food Assistance

The United Nations World Food Program, WFP , says more than a half million people in Madagascar are in urgent need of food assistance. Some regions are suffering from the worst drought to hit the country in a decade.

Madagascar is one of the poorest countries on earth. The World Food Program says the country's normally difficult situation has been compounded by this devastating drought.

WFP spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume says people in the southeastern and southwestern parts of the country have lost up to 80 percent of their crop to the drought. "Drought and high malnutrition rates are pushing people on the road," she said. "Thousands of people are abandoning their towns and villages trying to find food, work, water somewhere else. What we have seen are entire villages of people who have sold everything they have - all their animals, and even their kitchen utensils - to get a bit of money to try to buy food. "

According to official government figures, about 600,000 people in Madagascar are in urgent need of food. The government estimates that 17,000 already are displaced because of the drought.

WFP's Christiane Berthiaume says 30 percent of children in some regions are showing signs of moderate to severe malnutrition. "We have identified 170,000 very vulnerable people, and we would like to help them very quickly," said Ms. Berthiaume. "The problem is that Madagascar is, unfortunately, not on top of the agenda. It is not on TV. It is not where it should be, and so it is very difficult to get funds and money for this operation."

The World Food Program launched an appeal for $8 million in November. But Ms. Berthiaume says the agency has received only half of that money.

The result, she says, is that only about 55,000 of the most needy people are receiving food assistance, while tens of thousands of others are going hungry.