Action Against Hunger teams carry out a nutrition screening in Madagascar.

Madagascar: Climate Crisis in Grand Sud Causing Alarming Increase in Malnutrition

Three consecutive years of drought in the Grand Sud region of Madagascar has led to widespread food insecurity and malnutrition. In January and February of this year, Action Against Hunger’s teams have treated 4,000 children under age five for severe malnutrition, double the number of children treated during the same period last year.

The number of monthly admissions to our lifesaving nutrition programs more than doubled with the onset of the “hunger season” starting in September 2020, increasing from 1,500 to more than 3,000 at the end of 2020. A nutrition screening conducted in December confirmed this trend, which continued in January with more than 4,000 admissions, mainly in the Androy and Anosy regions.

"This is a humanitarian emergency where children will die if we do not take them into our care, and we are currently one of the few actors present on the ground to support local health authorities," says Valérie Ceylon, Action Against Hunger’s Regional Operations Director for Southern Africa. "Southern Madagascar faces a difficult hunger season every year, but the current situation is far more serious than in other years."

This year, the hunger season began early due to lack of rain. Many families began to run out of basic food staples in September 2020. According to our teams, people are resorting to desperate feeding practices, such as eating clay mixed with tamarind, termites, wild tubers, or unripe mangoes. 

"In addition to drought, there are also sandstorms engulfing farmland and destroying livelihoods among a population already especially vulnerable to climatic hazards. In the Androy region, where more than 95% of the population lives below the poverty line and depends exclusively on agriculture, this is having devastating effects," explains Ceylon.

Satellite images shows the progression of sandstorms in the Ambovombe region between February 2020 and February 2021.

Source: Airbus / Action Against Hunger

Deforestation and slash-and-burn farming expose the soil to the risk of erosion, which in turn results in sandstorms when strong trade winds are present. This year, the phenomenon has reached a new intensity levels over a longer duration. These factors will severely impact future agricultural production. Action Against Hunger already fears a severe hunger season in the fourth quarter of 2021.

An agricultural field in Ambovombe, near Betsimeda, in early 2019 (left) compared to early 2021 (right).

Photo: Action Against Hunger

Our teams have deployed mobile clinics to the Grand Sud to detect and respond to the most serious cases of malnutrition in remote areas, and our response is increasing as needs grow. Sixteen Action Against Hunger mobile teams canvas the region every day to treat children directly or refer the most serious cases to hospitals.

"Without additional funding, all mobile clinics will be shut down on April 1, leaving children in the most remote communities without access to treatment," says Ceylon. In 2020, mobile clinics admitted 6,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition, representing a quarter of all children within the health system in Madagascar’s Grand Sud.

As we provide urgent treatment to malnourished children, our teams are helping families prevent hunger, too, by tackling longer-term projects to reinforce agricultural techniques and improve livelihoods in the region, working in close collaboration with the Ministry of Health and other local partners.

Action Against Hunger has been active in Madagascar since 2012 following a major intervention in response to Cyclone Aruna, which severely impacted the Atsimo-Andrefana region. Today, we implement programs in nutrition, health, food security, livelihoods, mental health, water, sanitation, and hygiene. Our teams are present in the capital Antananarivo as well as in the Grand Sud, and we operate in both emergency humanitarian and development capacities.

Action Against Hunger is leading a global movement to end hunger in our lifetimes. It innovates solutions, advocates for change, and reaches 25 million people every year with proven hunger prevention and treatment programs. As a nonprofit that works across 50 countries, its 8,300 dedicated staff members partner with communities to address the root causes of hunger, including climate change, conflict, inequity, and emergencies. It strives to create a world free from hunger, for everyone, for good.