GENEVA – Famine looms in southern Madagascar and hundreds of thousands of people need emergency aid to cope with a humanitarian disaster on the African island nation, the United Nations World Food Program warned.

Five consecutive years of drought, exacerbated by unexpected sandstorms, have depleted people’s food supplies, forcing them to take desperate measures to survive.

WFP’s chief operations officer in Madagascar, Amer Daoudi, said at least 1.35 million people are suffering from acute hunger, many of whom live on locusts, raw cactus fruits or wild leaves.

He said malnutrition is alarming and endangers the lives of many children under five. During a diplomatic and government trip to the region, he said he saw terrible pictures of starving, malnourished and stunted children.

FILE – Children protect themselves from the sun in Ankilimarovahatsy, Madagascar, a village in the far south of the island where most children are acutely malnourished on November 9, 2020.

“And not just the children,” added Daoudi. “Mothers, parents and the people in the villages we visited. The situation is extremely, extremely worrying and frightening. They are on the verge of famine.”

The WFP official said most of Madagascar’s southern districts are in a nutritional emergency as acute malnutrition has nearly doubled in the past four months. He said people are dying, but it’s difficult to get an accurate count.

“When a child dies, they bury it, there is no reporting, there is no official form of reporting to collect these numbers,” he said. “The same goes for adults. We are already seeing entire villages being closed and moving to the nearest urban centers.”

This movement, Daoudi said, is putting pressure on an already fragile food security situation in cities.

He said the WFP has little money and limited ability to cope with the hunger crisis. Because of the financial crisis, his agency was forced to halve the food rations for up to 750,000 people who live on the knife edge.

The WFP is now calling for $ 75 million to meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of starving people over the next few months.