People are eating “cactus mixed with mud, roots, whatever they can find.”

Why Global Citizens Should CareThe COVID-19 pandemic has caused a global spike in hunger as people struggle to afford groceries and food systems falter. The United Nations calls on countries to fund humanitarian efforts to prevent starvation. You can join us in taking action on related issues here

Successive droughts and COVID-19 disruptions have deepened poverty and pushed an estimated 1.3 million people into famine-like conditions in southern Madagascar, according to the United Nations.

That’s up from 700,000 people in urgent need of food aid in 2019, and represents 35% of the area’s population. The crisis could worsen in the months ahead as droughts continue and the economic conditions remain stifled. People are so hungry they’re eating “cactus mixed with mud, roots, whatever they can find, leaves, seeds, whatever is available,” according to Lola Castro, the World Food Programme (WFP)’s regional director for Southern Africa and Indian Ocean States, said in a video briefing for journalists. 

WFP is currently providing assistance to 500,000 people across the region, but the organization is calling for $35 million in immediate funding to scale up its efforts and “stave off a humanitarian crisis.”

Castro described the situation’s complexity in a video briefing for journalists. 

“The rains that normally come November-December, we only had one day of rain in December in the whole region,” she said. “And the thunderstorms have been blasting … and destroying and burying the crops that were there. The result is famine-like conditions.” 

WFP in Madagascar

To make matters worse, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted economic activity. As a result, markets have been closed, preventing many people from earning an income and causing food prices to rise. The loss of income has forced many people to sell their possessions, the UN reports. Poverty is a long-standing issue in southern Madagascar, where 90% of households in the region lack basic water and sanitation

If the current crisis deepens, then many people will be forced to leave their homes in search of food and help.

“In 2020, the population of the South relies on casual labor and goes to urban areas or to the fields to really have additional funds that will allow them to survive during the lean season, that is normally between November and April every year,” Castro said. “But this year there was no labor, they moved around without finding any labor anywhere, both in urban areas or in the rural areas, due to the drought and due to the COVID lockdown.” 

The food crisis has had a devastating impact on children. An estimated 135,000 children are malnourished, which can lead to long-term health consequences. 

“Children have abandoned schools. 75% of the children in this area are either begging or foraging for food,” Castro said.

WFP estimates that it will cost $45 to feed a family of five for a month and the organization is working with women’s groups to “diversify” the food that is being produced and distributed. The organization is also funding emergency school feeding programs and providing cash to people, according to Relief Web

Worldwide, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the number of people struggling with extreme hunger to double. As global COVID-19 infection rates continue to rise worldwide, WFP, which won the Nobel Peace Prize, has been working around-the-clock to prevent people from succumbing to starvation.