Skyrocketing Food Insecurity And Malnutrition A Cause For Concern In Madagascar

The East African nation of Madagascar is currently facing a humanitarian crisis in the form of widespread food insecurity and famine-like conditions. The combination of the effects of COVID-19 and continuous droughts has seen malnutrition numbers skyrocket. International organizations have warned that the situation will only continue to deteriorate if large-scale humanitarian assistance is not provided.

The severity of the situation was encapsulated by Lola Castro, the World Food Programme’s Regional Director for Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean States. She stated: “We have seen the doubling of the numbers of food-insecure between the data we had in July 2020 or November 2020; we moved from 700,000 people food insecure in the Grand South or Grand Sud of Madagascar, to 1.3 million.”

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, southern Madagascar is experiencing a major food insecurity and malnutrition crisis due to several factors. This has included the worst drought the country has seen in 40 years, which has been ongoing since October 2019 and has had drastic implications for agricultural productivity. It is expected that approximately 60% of the upcoming harvest is to be lost.

The spread of COVID-19 has served to further exacerbate the conditions. It has caused the prices of basic food items such as rice and oil to dramatically increase and restrictions about the pandemic have closed markets. The ramifications of COVID-19 forced many families to sell productive assets to purchase food, thereby giving rise to instability and worsening conditions. As a result, 1.14 million people in Madagascar have been classified as experiencing high acute food insecurity.

Julie Reversé, Madagascar’s emergency coordinator for Mèdecins Sans Frontières, highlighted the implications of the protracted drought on the humanitarian situation within the country. She stated: “Without rain, they will not be able to return to the fields and feed their families. And some do not hesitate to say that it is death that awaits them if the situation does not change, and the rain does not fall.”

The effect of the conditions in Madagascar has led to highly restricted access to adequate food and income. This has led to a reduction in the quality, frequency, and quantity of diet throughout the population. Consequently, some families have resorted to foraging for wild foods and leaves to survive, according to the Famine Early Warning System Network. However, this can pose serious health implications, especially for children and pregnant women. There have been further reports that some people have been forced to survive on termites and clay flavoured with tamarind.

Children have been impacted most severely by food insecurity, which has led to large numbers dropping out of school to beg for food on the streets. An assessment conducted by the World Food Programme in Amboasary, a town in southern Madagascar, found that three out of four children were absent from school. This absence was primarily traced to helping their parents forage for food. Projections from the WFP expect that there are likely more than 135,000 children suffering from acute malnutrition, with 27,000 falling under the classification of severe.

In early May 2021, the Integrated Food Insecurity Phase Classification issued an alert of a “sustained deterioration in food insecurity in the Grand South of Madagascar from April- December 2021.” The needs of the population are only expected to intensify, as a prolonged lean season is expected to begin earlier than usual.

It is of great urgency that humanitarian assistance is stepped up to combat the rapidly worsening situation in Madagascar. The World Food Programme has stated that it urgently needs USD 35 million to provide humanitarian aid in this context, in the form of food and cash distributions and malnutrition treatment programmes. States in the Global North should therefore be directing a proportion of their Official Development Aid to Madagascar at this time.

Lauryn Sinclair