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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 2 April, 2003, 07:21 GMT 08:21 UK
Madagascar's forgotten famine
By Richard Hamilton
BBC, Antananarivo

Here in what is called the "Spiny desert" in southern Madagascar, it has not rained for weeks.

The famine stricken Antandroy people of Madagascar
Malnutrition among children has doubled

Victor Rabelaha is one of the lucky ones. In return for his work he is given maize to eat, but even so, he says life is very tough.

"This community is really suffering and in difficulties at the moment. We simply do not have enough food.

"Even the food that we normally rely on in times of famine such as cassava does not exist here, because there is just not enough water," he says.

Cactus fruit

At the nearby village of Ankera, maize is poured into sacks as part of a major food for work distribution organised by the World Food Programme.

But the last supplies were back in December and people like Fenosoa have struggled to feed their families since then.

When you talk about flooding today and then the next morning you say one part of the country has been hit by drought, it's very difficult for people from abroad to figure that out
Moumini Ouedraogo, WFP
"Actually at the moment there is no rain and no harvest so we are suffering from a very bad famine.

"I am the head of my household because I no longer have a husband. It is very hard to feed five children.

"Everyday we have nothing to eat except cactus fruit and my children have had nothing to eat before this food arrived today. Twelve years ago we also had a very bad famine but this one seems worse", Fenosoa said.

The aid agencies estimate that severe malnutrition amongst young children has doubled in the last few months.

International ignorance

The situation here is scarcely known in other parts of Madagascar let alone in the rest of the world.

More dramatic food crises in southern Africa and Ethiopia have grabbed the headlines.

The famine stricken Antandroy people of Madagascar
People are used to harsh conditions... but not this bad

Moumini Ouedraogo from the World Food Programme says it has been hard to convince donors that there has been no rain in part of a country besieged by cyclones and floods.

"When you talk about flooding today and then the next morning you say one part of the country has been hit by drought, it's very difficult for people from abroad to figure that out.

"They don't work out that this country is a huge one and you have part of the country in the coastal area which is struck by floods every year and the southern part is a drought area.

"So it's two completely different areas but in the same country. It's sometimes difficult for people abroad to understand that".

'People of the thorns'

In the local markets, people are keeping up their spirits.

But kitchen implements and household goods are for sale - a sure sign that this is a time of famine.

The Antandroy are such tough people they are known as the people of the thorns - because of the difficult environment they live in.

They are used to famine, but even by their standards - this one is very hard indeed.

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