Amboasary, Madagascar, September 17 (UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News – September 17, 2021): Nothing to eat, nothing to plant. The last rain in Ifotaka fell in May for two hours.
Across the vast southern tip of Madagascar, drought has turned fields into bowls of dust. Over a million people are facing famine.
On tens of thousands of hectares, the countryside is desolate. The harvest season begins in October, leaving long lean weeks before the arrival of the meager harvests.
Some villages are abandoned. In others, people should be working in the fields, but instead they languish at home. There is nothing to harvest.
Hunger weighs on people, both in the mind and in the body. They move slowly and find it difficult to follow the conversation.
“I feel sick and worried. Every day I wonder what we are going to eat,” said Helmine Sija, 60 years old and a mother of six, in a village called Atoby.
A little woman with gray hair and a hardened face, Sija tends to a pot of boiling cactus in front of her house. She cut the bites with a machete to prepare them for cooking.
You can’t really call it food. The concoction has little nutritional value, but it’s a popular appetite suppressant, even if it causes an upset stomach.
Her three oldest have left home to look for work in other cities. She takes care of the youngest.
“I want to move to a more fertile place, where I can cultivate. But I don’t have enough money to leave, ”she said.
Arzel Jonarson, 47, a former cassava farm worker, now collects firewood for sale, earning around 25 US cents per week. Enough to buy a bowl of rice.
In Ankilidoga, an elderly couple and their daughter prepare a meal of wild herbs, which they season with salt to reduce the bitterness. In better times, these were thrown away like weed. But their crops of corn, cassava and sweet potato failed.
Their village has a reservoir to collect rainwater. No one remembers the last time it was full.
“I haven’t received any help for two months,” said Kazy Zorotane, a 30-year-old single mother with four children. “The last time, in June, the government gave me money. Around $ 26 (22 euros).
Malnutrition regularly afflicts southern Madagascar. But the current drought is the worst in 40 years, according to the United Nations, which attributes the crisis to climate change.
Around the town of Ifotaka, people said the government brought rice, beans and oil. But it was in August. Of the 500 people nominated for financial assistance, approximately 90 received the $ 26.
Doctors Without Borders dispatched a mobile clinic to move from village to village. Children cling to packets of “Pumpy”, a peanut butter paste designed to help severely malnourished people.
Through the waiting crowd, nurses and orderlies spot the most urgent cases and guide them to the front line. Small children are weighed in a blue bucket.
Measuring tapes are wrapped around their small arms, to give an indication of the extreme severity of their malnutrition.
In Befeno, another village, nine-year-old Zapedisoa came with his grandmother. He is lazy, his eyes seem empty. At 20 kilograms (44 pounds), he has alarming symptoms and is receiving medication and dietary supplements.
Satinompeo, a five-year-old with short hair, weighs only 11 kilos. She suffers from severe malnutrition, but she is afraid of doctors. She clings to her father’s yellow shorts and cries.
Families are sent home with a two-week food supply, depending on the number of children in the house.
In Fenoaivo, two sisters and a brother, all retired, share a house.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve grown anything. On a good day the three of us share a bowl of rice,” said Tsafaharie, 69.
In another house in this town, a 45-year-old man watches over his father’s body.
While it is difficult to pinpoint an exact number of deaths from hunger, which is why he died in June, according to his family.
“We don’t have enough money to buy a (cow) to feed the bereaved, so we can’t have a funeral,” Tsihorogne Monja said.
The corpse is in a separate hut, partially covered with a cloth.
“My father was very hungry. He ate too much cactus bark and tubers. That’s what killed him. It was like he had been poisoned.”