Geneva — The United Nations says thousands of people in Madagascar are suffering from famine, while more than 1 million others are facing acute hunger and are forced to resort to extreme measures to keep from starving.
More than 1.1 million people in southern Madagascar are unable to feed themselves because the country is suffering from its most acute drought in four decades. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warns the humanitarian crisis gripping the country is deteriorating rapidly.
OCHA spokesman Jens Laerke says conditions in the Amboasary Atsimo district are particularly serious. About 75% of the population is facing severe hunger, and thousands, he says, are catastrophically food insecure.
"We have during this crisis for the first time identified 14,000 people who are in famine condition ... Now, children are, of course, especially vulnerable. There is extreme malnutrition, and as we have heard from others, there is no doubt that the level that this has reached now is costing lives among children and others," Laerke said.
Aid agencies say the number of children admitted for treatment for life-threatening severe acute malnutrition in the first quarter of this year was four times the five-year average. That condition causes wasting, stunting, and can lead to problems of physical and cognitive development.
Laerke said the United Nations is in desperate need of money to stave off a looming catastrophe. He said the U.N. is renewing an appeal for $76 million, which was launched in January.
He said only 22% of the funds have been received, an amount that falls far short of what is needed to provide life-saving support for more than 1 million people.
"The amount of money that [the U.N.] is asking -- $76 million -- is not a lot of money. It frankly is not in the bigger picture. And now, there is really an opportunity for donors to step up with a modest amount of money and save lives from one day to the other," he said.
Laerke warned, however, time is running out fast for people in Madagascar, especially for children. He said there is no time to waste. International donors must give money to support this life-saving effort -- and they must give now.