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Madagascar's hungry eat grasshoppers

20 March 2013, 09:34

Toliara - With small, silent steps, 10-year-old Borikely carefully picks her way through the tall grass of a Madagascar field in search of her dinner. She's hunting for grasshoppers, which she'll catch with a stick.

Once speared, she places them carefully in a small round straw basket and within a few minutes, she has collected dozens of insects.

This is Borikely's only meal of the day, revealing the extent of the food crisis that has gripped the Indian Ocean Island since cyclone Haruna hit three weeks ago.

"I don't like grasshoppers, but I am forced to eat them since the cyclone because I am hungry," Borikely told AFP.

The storm killed 26 people and affected nearly 40 000 more, devastating several villages and forcing thousands of people to cram into emergency camps.

Now, villagers like Borikely fill their stomachs by eating grasshoppers which are cooked with a little salt and water, or grilled in some parts of the country.

The fields in Borikely's isolated village of Ankilimalangy, five hours drive inland from the coastal city of Toliara, were completely flooded by the February 22 storm.

The village is typical of Madagascar's arid southwest where crops are only harvested once a year.

When tropical storms or cyclones hit - which they do almost every year - an entire village crop can easily be wiped out.

An hour from Toliara lies Mangily, a holiday destination where sun-bathing tourists seem blissfully unaware of the recent devastation and the lack of drinking water.

Not far from the beach, several wells have been contaminated.


In one of the affected villages, a water hole dug in the ground was contaminated with faeces but it is still being used by locals.

"We were all sick - the children, the women - the diarrhoea would not stop, like a tap," said Gauthier, a village elder.

French charity group Action Against Hunger, which invited AFP to see the extent of the needs of the hurricane's victims, has begun disinfecting contaminated wells with chlorine and has installed a pump system to try to remove the dirty water.

"This is an emergency," said Stephane Senia, the group's water programme manager, adding that they are working to restore the wells to their pre-cyclone condition.

"So we're not looking to work miracles. In the long term, the wells need to be improved and we need to ensure that they're [built][ in non-contaminated areas," he said.

Although most of the island's sanitation infrastructure is crying out for a complete overhaul, the aftermath of Haruna means that the focus is still on providing immediate humanitarian aid.

But despite the food handouts, many of the storm's victims still go hungry.

Seliny is one of 1 500 people living in a tent set up in a Toliara military camp and whose survival is currently dependant on outside help.

Sitting under the shade of a canopy by the entrance of her tent, she is in despair over the situation she has found herself in since the cyclone landed.

"I have nothing, my house, my furniture were swept away by the cyclone," she said.

"Here, we are given food to eat but it is not enough."


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