Malnutrition has jumped to 16% from 9% in the four months to March following five straight years of drought, exacerbated this year by sandstorms and late rains
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* People have resorted to eating locusts, cactus fruits, leaves
* Malnutrition among children under fives hits "alarming levels"
* WFP reaching half of 1.35 mln people in need of food aid
By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA, April 30 (Reuters) - Famine threatens southern Madagascar after drought and sandstorms ruined harvests, reducing people to eating locusts and leaves, the United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP) said on Friday.
The lives of children are in danger, especially those under five years old whose malnutrition rates have reached "alarming levels", Amer Daoudi, senior director of global WFP operations, said by videolink from Madagascar's capital Antananarivo.
At least 1.35 million people are in need of food assistance in the region, but the WFP is only reaching 750,000 with "half-rations" due to financial constraints, he said.
"Famine looms in southern Madagascar as communities witness an almost total disappearance of food sources which has created a full-blown nutrition emergency," Daoudi told a U.N. briefing in Geneva.
He said he had visited villages where "people have had to resort to desperate survival measures, such as eating locusts, raw red cactus fruits or wild leaves".
The harvest was expected to be nearly 40% below the 5-year average, he added.
Malnutrition among children under 5 has almost doubled to 16% from 9% in the four months to March 2021 following five consecutive years of drought, exacerbated this year by sandstorms and late rains, he said.
A rate of 15% is deemed emergency level and some districts are reporting 27%, or one in four children under five, are suffering from acute malnutrition that causes wasting, he said.
"I witnessed...horrific images of starving children, malnourished, and not only the children - mothers, parents and the population in villages we visited," Daoudi said.
"They are on the periphery of famine, these are images I haven't seen for quite some time across the globe," said the veteran aid worker.
WFP is seeking $75 million to cover emergency needs through September, he added. (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay Editing by William Maclean and Mark Heinrich)
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