Madagascar: MSF calls for an immediate increase in aid as food and nutrition crisis continues

MSF teams are treating malnourished children as annual lean season looms

A young patient is called for a consultation at a mobile MSF clinic in Ambatomena, Madagascar, in January 2021.

Solen Mourlon/MSF

As people in southern Madagascar face the worst food and nutrition crisis to hit the region in decades, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) calls once again for an immediate and massive increase in food aid. Since March, MSF has provided critical medical care to 6,000 malnourished children across 20 locations in the Amboasary and Ambovombe districts, which are among the hardest-hit areas of Madagascar. However, more is needed as the situation is expected to worsen in October during the annual “lean season,” when people’s stocks from the last harvests will begin to run out and new crops will not yet be ready for harvest.

This crisis—which began at the end of 2020—is the result of a unique combination of factors. The effects of climate change have wreaked havoc on agriculture; sandstorms caused by deforestation have buried much of the arable land in sand, even destroying last-resort food sources such as cactus fruit; and the COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged the island nation’s economy. According to the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET), food production is expected to fall up to 70 percent below the last five-year average.

These factors have plunged the region into a catastrophic humanitarian crisis, leaving thousands of children severely ill and pushing families into extreme poverty. In response, government agencies and humanitarian organizations like MSF have increased assistance to treat acute malnutrition and stepped up emergency food aid for the 1.3 million people currently living in this critical situation.

But Madagascar’s geography makes it difficult to get aid to the people who need it. The island’s semi-arid southern regions have many remote villages and few paved roads. Since the end of March, MSF mobile clinics have been treating malnourished children in the districts of Amboasary and Ambovombe and distributing food rations in approximately 20 locations. The teams have been visiting particularly remote and impoverished villages and responding to alerts sent by local health authorities.

About 300 metric tons of food have already been distributed, and another 750 are expected to be distributed by October. In addition to the ongoing water distribution to 30,000 people, new wells and boreholes are planned. And approximately 100 patients were hospitalized in June and July in a dedicated facility built and managed by MSF within the Ambovombe Hospital.

But a greater response is urgently needed. “We’re seeing malnourished children struggling to regain weight after weeks of treatment in our mobile clinics,” said Bérengère Guais, MSF head of emergency programs. “The medical care we provide and the half-rations different organizations have been distributing are not enough to reverse the trend in a setting where there is so little access to food. A massive increase in emergency food assistance is an absolute priority.”