Madagascar's children could suffer lifelong health problems due to the ongoing drought that has caused a severe food shortage south of the island nation.
The details emerged on Monday after the UN warned that at least half a million children under the age of five are expected to be acutely malnourished with 110,000 in severe condition, in drought-affected southern Madagascar.
UN officials say the danger with this is not just that the children might starve, but even those who survive live with various shortcomings including slower brain development and low immunity.
"The number of acutely malnourished children is likely to increase fourfold since the previous assessment conducted in October 2020," read the joint statement issued by UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP).
"We need to double our efforts to curb this catastrophic rise in hunger but we cannot do it without significant funding resources and buy in from partners."
"What is currently happening in southern Madagascar is heartbreaking. We cannot turn our backs on these children whose lives are at stake," Madagascar WFP's representative Moumini Ouedraogo said.
"There is an urgent need to invest in the prevention and treatment of malnutrition in children to prevent the situation from becoming even more critical," Michel Saint-Lot, UNICEF's Representative in Madagascar added.
"By providing families with access to safe water and treating malnourished children with therapeutic food, lives can be saved. But we have to act now."
WFP and UNICEF have been working closely with the Malagasy government and partners since last year to address severe hunger in the south.
A severe drought pummeling southern regions of Madagascar has caused a heavy toll on food shortage to a country that is also battling the Covid-19 pandemic.
UN agencies said in a joint statement that treatment for malnutrition will have to go hand in hand with "a robust multi-sectoral prevention and response plan" in collaboration with all partners and the national authorities.
Four consecutive years of drought have wiped out harvests and cut off people's access to food.
With the lean season around the corner, the time of year when food stocks run low, the crisis is expected to drastically worsen.
More than 1.14 million people are food insecure in southern Madagascar and the number of people in 'Catastrophic' conditions (IPC Phase 5) risks doubling to 28,000 by October.
The worst-affected Ambovombe-Androy district, where global acute malnutrition rates have touched an alarming 27 percent is at risk of famine unless urgent steps are taken to prevent further deterioration.
The crisis has been aggravated by poor health and sanitation facilities and a lack of safe water.
Continuous increases in the prices of certain basic foods coupled with a marked decrease in availability on the markets continue to negatively impact food security.