More than a million people hit by famine in the south of the country

An exceptional drought hits the south of Madagascar hard. The most serious for 40 years, underlines the UN, which attributes it to global warming. If the death toll is impossible to quantify, more than a million people in this region are affected by famine as a result. Over tens of thousands of hectares, the fields have been reduced to dust.

The last time it rained in the village of Ifotaka was in May. Two hours and that’s it. The villages are abandoned or populated by haggard peasants who no longer work a land that has become barren. “I feel sick and stressed. Every day I wonder what we are going to be able to eat, ”says Monique Helmine, mother of six children, in the village of Atoby. She boils cactus, after removing the quills with a machete, in front of her wooden house. A common appetite suppressant in the region, despite the stomach aches it causes.

State aid diverted by the military

Arzel Jonarson, 47, landless, was employed by cassava farmers. He has been out of work for many months. He collects wood. In one week, he painfully earns 22 euro cents. The price of a bowl of rice. In Ankilidoga, an elderly couple and their daughter cook wild herbs, adding a lot of salt to reduce their bitterness. Normally, they grow maize, cassava, peanuts and sweet potatoes. This year, nothing.

Kazy Zorotane, a 30-year-old farmer, is also raising her four children alone. “I haven’t received any help for months. The last time, it was a little money distributed by the government in June ”. The equivalent of 22 euros. According to several elected officials from the commune of Ifotaka, the latest state aid, in the form of rice, oil and beans, was largely diverted by the military in August. Only 90 people, out of the 500 identified, received this sum.

Nine years, 20 kg

In the queue in front of the Médecins sans frontières mobile clinic, which moves from village to village, the children awkwardly grab “plumpy”, rectangular sachets containing a caloric food paste with peanut flavor, which they put in their mouths. In the waiting crowd, nurses and staff members spot the most urgent cases, which are examined first. The cubs are weighed in a blue bucket and the circumference of their arms measured to assess the debilitating effects of acute malnutrition.

Nine-year-old Zapedisoa came with his grandmother to Befeno. The sluggish little boy, face extinguished, weighs 20 kg and shows alarming signs. The team gives him medicine and food supplements. Satinompeo, a tiny little girl with short hair, is already five years old. It weighs only 11 kg. Severely malnourished, she clings to her father’s yellow shorts and cries: she is a little afraid of the doctors.

Families leave with food calculated according to the number of children and for a period of fifteen days. Further afield, other international or local NGOs, supported by the government, are also at work. In Fenoaivo, a 45-year-old man watches over the body of his father, who died in June. “My father was very hungry. He ate too many cacti and tuber bark. That’s what killed him, as if he had been poisoned, ”said Tsihorogne Monja, near the dead man who lies under a cloth, in a separate hut.

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