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Famine Rife in S. Madagascar           12/04 06:15


   ANKILIMAROVAHATSY, Madagascar (AP) -- "It's the hunger that killed him," the 
grieving mother said.

   In this village in Madagascar's extreme south, the 31-year-old Lasinatry 
lost her 3-year-old boy in June as hunger swept the region, more severe than in 
recent years.

   "We, the parents, have nothing to feed our children aside from tamarind and 
the cactus that we find around us," she said.

   On a visit this week, The Associated Press spoke with suffering families who 
are among the 1.5 million people in need of emergency food assistance, 
according to the U.N. World Food Program. It's a consequence of three straight 
years of drought, along with historic neglect by the government of the remote 
region as well as the COVID-19 pandemic.

   Mothers are now trying to feed their children with unripe mangoes, and with 
tamarind mixed with clay. Many children have the spindly legs, reddish hair and 
pot bellies of malnourishment. Tired, they rest under trees and no longer play.

   After reports emerged of at least eight children dying, the president of 
this Indian Ocean island nation, Andry Rajoelina, visited the region and vowed 
to "win the war against malnutrition."

   Some food has been distributed, but the WFP said it's not enough and 
residents said the handouts last just a few days. The WFP said it has enough 
supplies to help just a half-million people through the end of this year

   Southern Madagascar is on the brink of a humanitarian disaster, the U.N. 
agency said, and three out of four children in the Amboasary district at the 
epicenter of the crisis have left school to help their parents find food.

   Farmers said they can no longer cultivate because of lack of rain, and they 
have given up cattle farming because of theft. Some villagers said they have 
sold their most basic possessions --- cooking pots, clothes, school notebooks 
--- for food.

   Some people now cut down trees to make charcoal, acknowledging that worsens 
the drought but saying they have no choice if they want to survive.

   One mother, Toharano, said four of her 14 children died in June and July.

   "Who can support not eating in the morning, midday and night?" she asked, 
exhausted by hunger and the heat. "The children wake in the night, hungry."

   The names of the dead are kept in a notebook held by the village leader, 

   "We're used to famine, but this time it's just too much," he said. "Before 
this, we didn't have people dying (of hunger) in our village."

   The river Mandrare, which traverses the region, is now dry. Ten-year-old 
Masy Toasy walked in the direction of men who dug into the sand in search of 

   "It's here that we tried to grow sweet potatoes, but they're all dead," the 
girl said. On the other side of the river is her school, but she said her 
parents have sold her notebooks to buy a little rice.

   "Residents have no more resources to allow them to face this crisis," said 
Theodore Mbainaissem with WFP, who said the extent of the hunger caught 
humanitarians and authorities by surprise.

   And with COVID-19 and restrictions imposed to slow its spread, residents of 
this hungry region couldn't go elsewhere to find work, Mbainaissem said. Those 
restrictions have now been lifted.

   "For now," he said, "the only solution is to aid them by bringing in enough 
food for the months to come."d

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