Paris, March 4, 2021 – Over 4,000 children under five have been admitted to ambulatory nutritional rehabilitation centres (CRENA) in the Grand Sud region with severe forms of undernutrition each month since the beginning of 2021. This number has more than doubled compared to the same period last year, when the country was already suffering from drought and widespread food insecurity.
Action Against Hunger teams saw the number of monthly admissions more than double with the onset of the “hunger season,” from 1,500 to more than 3,000 at the end of last year. A nutrition screening conducted last December confirmed this trend, which continued in January 2021 with more than 4,000 admissions, mainly in the Androy and Anosy regions.
“In 2021, the increase in admissions of malnourished children to health centres in the Grand Sud of Madagascar continues to increase. This is a humanitarian emergency where children will die if we do not take them into our care, and we are currently one of the few actors present on the ground to support local health authorities,” says Valérie Ceylon, Action Against Hunger’s Regional Operations Director for southern Africa. “Southern Madagascar faces a difficult hunger season every year, but the current situation is much more serious than in other years.”
This year, the hunger season began early due to lack of rain. Household food stocks began to run out as early as September 2020, and Action Against Hunger teams observed desperate feeding practices such as consumption of clay mixed with tamarind, termites, wild tubers, or unripe mangoes.
“In addition to the drought, there is also the issue of sandstorms engulfing cultivation areas and destroying the livelihoods of a population already particularly vulnerable to climatic hazards. In the Androy region, where more than 95% of the population lives below the poverty line and depends exclusively on agriculture, this has devastating effects,” explains Valérie Ceylon.
Satellite view showing the progression of sandstorms in the Ambovombe region between February 2020 and February 2021 (source: Airbus / Action Against Hunger)
Deforestation and slash-and-burn farming expose the soil to the risk of erosion, which in turn results in sandstorms when strong trade winds are present. This year, the phenomenon has reached a new level intensity over a longer duration. These factors will severely impact future agricultural production. Action Against Hunger teams are already fearing a critical hunger season in the fourth quarter of 2021.
Agricultural field in Ambovombe, near Betsimeda at same period in 2019 and 2021 (source: Action Against Hunger)
Action Against Hunger teams are currently deploying mobile clinics to the Grand Sud to detect and respond to the most serious forms of undernutrition in the most remote areas and continue to increase the number of mobile clinics in response to the growing need. Sixteen Action Against Hunger mobile teams crisscross the region every day to attend to or refer the most serious cases.
“Action Against Hunger teams care for more than 500 severely malnourished children under the age of five every month. Without additional funding, all mobile clinics will be shut down on April 1st 2021, leaving children in the most remote communities without access to treatment,” says Valérie Ceylon.
In 2020, mobile clinics admitted 6,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition, representing a quarter of all children within the health system in Madagascar’s Grand Sud. At the same time, Action Against Hunger teams are also working on development projects to reinforce agricultural techniques and improve livelihoods of people in the Grand Sud region. This work is carried out in close collaboration with the Ministry of Health and in coordination with all partners present.
Action Against Hunger has been active in Madagascar since 2012 following a major intervention in response to Cyclone Aruna, which severely impacted the Atsimo-Andrefana region. Today, Action Against Hunger implements programs in Nutrition and Health, Food Safety and Livelihoods, Mental Health and Care Practice, and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene. Action Against Hunger is present in the capital Antananarivo as well as in the Grand Sud. Action Against Hunger operates in Madagascar in both emergency humanitarian and development capacities.