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Madagascar Suffering Drought-Induced Hunger Emergency

FILE - A young boy collects grass in a harvested rice paddy field to feed to cattle outside the village of Andranovelona, around 55 km (34 miles) north of Madagascar's capital city Antananarivo.

The World Food Program says hundreds of thousands of people in southern Madagascar are in the grips of a hunger emergency brought on by consecutive years of drought and ruined harvests.

Three years of consecutive drought have wiped out Madagascar’s harvests and driven desperately hungry people to fall back on extreme measures to put food on their tables.

The World Food Program says hunger has spread across 10 districts in southern Madagascar. It says one-and-one-half-million people, or half the region’s population, are struggling to feed themselves. It says women and children are most affected and in need of immediate food and nutrition assistance.

WFP spokesman Tomson Phiri says Madagascar has the world’s highest stunting rate, a condition that impairs a child’s growth and physical and mental development. He says nearly half of children under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition.

"As hunger numbers rise, so does the proportion of families who are resorting to crisis coping mechanisms," said Phiri . "The majority of them are having to eat bugs. They are selling off life-saving livelihoods, assets, farm implements, kitchen utensils.”

An assessment in the southern district of Amboasary finds three-quarters of children have dropped out of school so they could help their parents forage for food.

The WFP has been providing emergency food aid for 100,000 people in the hard-hit area since the end of September. It also is helping more than half-a-million people in nine other drought-stricken districts through December.

Given the gravity of the hunger crisis, the WFP is scaling up its humanitarian operation to assist nearly 900,000 of the most vulnerable people through June. It is appealing for international support, noting $37.5 million is needed to implement its humanitarian operation over the next six months.