, MADAGASCAR, Mar 11 – Clutching a small bag of corn in one hand, six-year-old Haova Toboha scratches the ground with the other in hopes of turning up stray kernels left from a UN food handout.
“I found these and I’ll add them to the corn given to my parents” by the UN World Food Programme (WFP), said the little girl with the plastic bag in the village of Berano, southern Madagascar.
In villages across the southern part of the world’s fourth biggest island, a months-long drought ravaged last season’s crops.
People are famished, children are wasting away.
WFP rations currently are keeping some 120,000 people alive in the wake of the October-through-February drought that destroyed the harvest in a country where one of every two toddlers under three suffer retarded growth due to inadequate diets.
With food increasingly scarce due to the lack of rain, the UN food agency has launched an appeal to donors to help rebuild food stocks. “We need support now,” said the deputy WFP representative to the Indian Ocean island, Fatima Sow Sidibe.
People are not only being forced “to use their food reserves, they’re also using up their own physical reserves,” she said.
Unlike 1991, when hundreds of people died of hunger in the region, experts say the situation cannot yet be described as “famine.”
“In those days people would leave the village in search of water and die on the way there,” said Bertrand Randrianarivo, who was born in the south and has worked in the area with non-governmental organisations since 2001.
“Drought comes every five or six years,” he said, saying the largely isolated region needs to build water catchment systems and improve its links with the rest of the island. Donors were ready to invest in such projects but had been discouraged by the stance of the nation’s successive leaders.