Madagascar in food crisis

“Food security could become an issue within the next few months ‘ we have to remember that for years the south has been in a chronic food insecurity situation,” Maharisoa Rakotonirainy, of the World Food Programme’s (WFP) vulnerability and assessment mapping unit, told IRIN. The early warning system covering southern Madagascar has estimated that the prolonged dry spell in 21 counties of the southwestern province of Tulear could affect over 300,000 people. “The drought situation can impact on the nutritional situation in the region, and children are always most at risk in these types of situations,” said Barbara Bentein, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) Representative. According to the Africa Weather Hazards Benefits Assessment (AWHBA) conducted by USAID, “Rainfall was dramatically reduced during late February and March. This early cessation of seasonal rains has resulted in the development of drought across the region. Crop losses have been reported and conditions will not likely improve until rains begin in late 2006.” “In general, it’s the irregularity of the rainfall that has affected the crops more than the rain shortfall,” said Rakotonirainy. “The rainfall pattern did not match the farming cultivation schedule.” Southern Madagascar is plagued by chronic food insecurity. Repeated floods in the coastal areas in 2005, recent insect infestation, cyclones and now drought have caused food security to deteriorate steadily. “So now we have two situations in the south,” said Bentein, “one which is nearly finishing in Vangaindrano (southeastern Madagascar) and another now in the southwest”. In early November 2005 a rapid nutritional survey showed high rates of malnutrition in Vangaindrano and the need for a rapid, coordinated response to ensure that the situation did not deteriorate any further, particularly as the lean season between harvests had already begun. A more extensive survey in December 2005, measuring the height-to-weight ratio in children less than five years old, indicated widespread acute malnutrition, confirming the rapid survey. According to WFP spokesperson Stefanie von Westarp, “as an initial response, WFP, in collaboration with the Civil Protection Corps and the Malagasy military, distributed over 800mt of food aid to those families with malnourished children. In addition, over 100mt of food aid was used to rehabilitate access roads for emergency operations through food-for-work activities”. WFP and Unicef have started scaling down their emergency response in Vangaindrano to coincide with the end of the lean season at the beginning of June, when the new harvest is expected, but “will continue support, and strengthen local health capacity ‘ the global malnutrition rate has already been halved and is now under 10 percent,” Bentein noted. Westarp said, “Strategies are being examined to improve the coping capacity of this vulnerable region, to ensure a similar situation is not encountered next year.” Resources and equipment used for averting the Vangaindrano malnutrition crisis, like feeding centres, are being prepared for deployment to the southeast, depending on the results of ongoing assessments. A rapid assessment by the Ministry of Agriculture, the National Emergency Office, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, Unicef and WFP is currently underway to determine the needs of affected counties and identify vulnerable groups that may need assistance. “We are waiting for the results of the assessment to know how to scale the necessary interventions,” said Bentein.

May 2006
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