In southern Madagascar, 'nothing to feed our children'

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Children shelter from the sun in Ankilimarovahatsy, Madagascar, a village in the far south of the island where most children are acutely malnourished, Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. As 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,1.5 million people are in need of emergency food assistance, according to the U.N. World Food Program. (AP Photo/Laetitia Began)

ANKILIMAROVAHATSY – “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.