Glimpse Of Hope Amidst Severe Droughts In Madagascar

A Nurse Examining A Pregnant Woman At A Unfpa Health Clinic In Madagascar
A Nurse Examining A Pregnant Woman At A Unfpa Health Clinic In Madagascar

Women and girls in arid Grand Sud reached with health services

Soalandy, a 31-year-old mother of four, stooped down, picked up a pebble, threw it across the parched earth, and watched the stone roll across the dusty ground.  “Look at that,” she said with her arms opening wide, “the ground is so dry, how many more years can we survive with this drought?”

Soalandy’s family has lived for many generations in the Grand Sud, the southern part of Madagascar. The last three years of extreme drought scorched the land, blighted crops and ended livelihoods.

The layered combination of issues has caused 3.9 million inhabitants of the Grand Sud to now grapple with the debilitating effects of climate change. The severe drought is causing food insecurity and malnutrition for more than one million people.

The perennial low rainfall has serious cascading effects – from straining the already stretched employment situation, to raising poverty levels, limiting access to health and nutritional services, and creating a more damaging impact on the lives of many young women and girls on top of the COVID-19 crisis.

As Grand Sud is in the midst of relentless drought, which is made worse by desertification and pest invasions, we will see exacerbated food insecurity, decimated livelihoods and in many instances, families forced to flee their homes.

Unmet family planning needs

At the eye of this climactic storm is the fragile sexual and health reproductive needs of young women and girls.

Records show that the current crisis increases the challenges in meeting the unmet need for family planning and ending maternal mortality.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, cases of gender-based violence are spiking in the southern regions, with 27.1 per cent of women reported as gender-based violence (GBV) victims.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women and girls are more vulnerable during disasters due to their limited mobility and their increased need for food, water, hygiene supplies, and quality maternal health care services.

Insufficient medical support endangers lives, and menstruating women may have disrupted access to menstrual health products or sanitation facilities.

Young women and adolescent girls are also vulnerable to sexual violence, unintended pregnancies, and forced marriage.

Let us pause for a second and look at some of the worrying figures. Based on 2021 projections in Grand Sud’s western area of Atsimo Andrefana, there is a 638 maternal mortality ratio per 100,000 live births. To the southeast, Androy records 28 per cent unmet family planning needs, and GBV numbers are pegged at 39 per cent.

These are numbers and figures that symbolize priceless lives. One unmet need, one GBV victim, one maternal mortality is one too many.

In my work here in Madagascar, I am in awe of the power and resilience of the Malagasy people. Young women and girls in particular bear the brunt of the crisis, and the burden gets heavier with the pandemic and layers of climate-induced challenges.

Glimpse of hope

However, we see glimpses of hope amidst all the seemingly arid landscape and desperate need for assistance.

Nahindra escaping from child marriage and claiming back her rights and life; midwives like Elysa saving hundreds of women and newborns and ensuring access to sexual reproductive health and rights; and many other champions who are our partners in the region.

Sharing in this optimism, UNFPA, together with the government, donors and partners, rolled out caravans of mobile clinics to provide integrated services on sexual and reproductive health, GBV and family planning. These included hundreds of prenatal consultations, obstetrical ultrasounds, hygiene kits, treatments, family planning services, and others. Rare services in the remote parts of the region.

In addition, community mobilizations enabled GBV sensitization, as well as psychosocial support to GBV survivors.

Challenges still remain

While we acknowledge these successes, there are still many challenges ahead of us in ensuring the rights of women and girls remain intact despite the humanitarian crisis. Together with the government, donors, UN agencies and other development partners, UNFPA is in the Grand Sud to ensure that no one is left behind, especially young women and girls.

To quote Soalandy and her answer to her hopes for the future of her daughters in Grand Sud, “We are like plants. We will somehow rise despite the drought and bear flowers and fruits once again.”

Such is the power of hope for Grand Sud.

Mr. Koffi Kouame is the UNFPA Resident Representative to Madagascar and Country Director for Comoros, Mauritius and Seychelles.

For more on the humanitarian situation in Grand Sud, visit OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs)

By: Koffi Kouame


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