Drought and locusts causing mass hunger and misery for children in Madagascar
2 August 2021, Ambovombe-Androy: Children in Madagascar are wasting away as families in the South teeter are on the brink of starvation, with the country facing its worst hunger situation in two generations, Save the Children said today.
The agency is warning that without urgent intervention, mothers like Tsaravolae (19) will be unable to feed herself or her baby Rovasoa. Tsaravolae currently collects and sells water and sweet potatoes, but the money she makes is barely enough for one meal a day.
Tsaravolae’s father Nerake, 58, told Save the Children that following a short bout of rain he had collected rainwater to sell to other farmers, and used the money earned to buy bean seeds. However, shortly after he had planted the seed, a swarm of locusts destroyed his crops, leaving nothing to harvest.
Nerake’s wife, Voatsazoe, approximately 45, has nine children, the youngest just two years old. She said:
“Sometimes, when we get no money [during] a day, we can’t afford food and we don’t eat. We were so malnourished so it is difficult for me to breastfeed my son Manolantsoa but he still suckles.”
Madagascar is currently facing its worst drought in 40 years, caused by years of failed rains, and intensified by a series of sandstorms and locust attacks. One in six children under five are now suffering from acute malnutrition, with numbers rising to one in four children in the six most affected districts.
Many families who used to depend on agriculture have now left their homes for nearby towns, putting pressure on already stretched resources.
Save the Children has deployed a team to southern Madagascar to provide cash support to 1600 households in Ambovombe, with an aim to support at least 30,000 people, including at least 18,000 children. The organisation will focus on ensuring children and their families have access to nutritious food and to child protection.
Save the Children’s Country Director for Kenya & Madagascar, Yvonne Arunga, said in response to the situation:
“We are seeing people fetching water from puddles on the road or using water from stagnant ponds for drinking and cooking. Parents and children are sometimes walking for miles every day to collect whatever water is available. Just to sell it, in order to get a bowl of rice or a few tuber vegetables on the table. One meal a day is not enough for an adult, and it certainly is not enough for growing kids. The high birth rate and many teen pregnancies make households even more vulnerable.
“This is a forgotten and very underfunded crisis, and its hitting children hardest - not only are they missing the nutrients to develop properly, they are missing school due to hunger and the inability of their parents to pay for school fees. Cash and food distributed is just enough to help people survive and stand on their feet, but barely enough to help them recover or consider alternative livelihoods.
“We are seeing many hungry, dead-eyed young children, scrounging for a scrap to eat. How can the world look away?”
Save the Children is calling on donor governments to urgently fund the response in Madagascar, and support health and nutrition services for children in the worst hit districts, including the treatment of acute malnutrition. The organisation is urging donors to prioritise humanitarian cash and voucher assistance for families to avoid a total collapse of livelihoods and save lives.
Critically, Save the Children is also calling on donors to ensure children are kept safe during this crisis, and to recognise the increased risk of violence and abuse against children as a result of rising pressures on families.
The crisis in Madagascar comes at a time when the world is facing its biggest hunger crisis of the 21st century, with an estimated 5.7 million children under five on the brink of starvation across the globe. A further 13 million children under 18 are facing extreme food shortages, the organisation said.
A deadly combination of COVID-19, conflicts, and the impacts of climate change have pushed hunger and malnutrition levels to a record global high. Without urgent action, the world could see tens of thousands of children starving to death, reversing decades of progress.
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