Recently the United Nations and David Beasley, the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP) have alerted on the catastrophic conditions of Madagascar’s population. The country, which is first-hand experiencing the effects of climate change, is going through the most disastrous drought in 40 years, consisting of intense sandstorms and cyclones which left more than 1.14 million of its inhabitants on the brink of famine. Because of strong winds and lack of water, Madagascans, who mainly rely on agriculture for their nutrition, are not able to cultivate their land, resorting to eating wild foods and leaves. With children being the ones who are the most affected by the situation, experts warn that it will only get worse in the months to come. Humanitarian organizations are calling for urgent financial aids and for the international community to acknowledge this issue and mobilise resources as soon as possible.
Madagascar’s disastrous conditions worsened in September 2020, with the intensification of droughts and sandstorms. Starting from 2014, the country has experienced a series of abnormally low rainfalls, leaving the nation in its worst state since 1981. The region saw a decrease of 50% in rain volume, leaving citizens unable to cultivate their land. Thus, this led to a crumbling of the agricultural-relying economy and to households being incapable of surviving off their produces. Julie Reversé, a coordinator working for Médecins Sans Frontières, has commented that “(W)ithout rain, they will not be able to return to the fields and feed their families. And some do not hesitate to say that it is death that awaits them if the situation does not change, and the rain does not fall”. As a result, the population has been forced to eat “locusts, cactus fruits, leaves and even mud” or a “mixture of white clay with tamarind juice”, which alerted the region’s coordinators of this nutrition’s impact on children’s and pregnant women’s health. The situation is particularly alarming for young people’s well-being. Indeed, the WFP has signalled that in four months, the degree of children younger than five falling into the Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) criterion has nearly doubled, reaching 16.5%. Moreover, the dire living conditions have also had an impact on education, with 75% of kids dropping out of schools to seek out food and ask for money.
Experts have attributed the devastating events afflicting the region to climate change. Indeed, the WFP has affirmed that Madagascar was the “first country in the world that is experiencing famine-like conditions as a result of the climate crisis”. What is more concerning is that even though this portion of the world was not responsible for global warming, they are the ones that are first-hand experiencing its destructive consequences, potentially leading half a million people on the verge of famine in the next couple of months if nothing is being done. The circumstances are so severe that since its first use in 2016, the index classifying food security risks in the world has assigned Madagascar the level of “catastrophe”, the highest one on the scale.
To face the unprecedented conditions, numerous organizations and humanitarian institutions have called for international action. Amnesty International’s Madagascar Programme Advisor, Tamara Léger, commented on the situation saying that “(T)he rights of more than a million people are currently threatened in Southern Madagascar, with thousands at risk of starvation and more than a million struggling to access sufficient quantities of food. The situation is dire and there is an immediate need for coordinated regional and global action to help avert what could easily become a human catastrophe”. In a combined cry for help, the United Nations and Madagascar’s government have demanded urgent worldwide financial aid for about $155 million, which will assist in alleviating the population’s hunger in the months to come. Similarly, during a humanitarian conference, David Beasley – the WFP’s chief – has requested for an economic budget of $78.6 million which he believes will sustain the country through the lean season, when planting and harvesting become more difficult.
In addition to monetary assistance, experts have proposed different suggestions that could help the region in the future. For example, Andriamparany Ranoasy, chief of the national farmers’ association in Madagascar, has indicated two potential elements that might reduce the area’s difficulties. The first one is agroecology. Andriamparany Ranoasy has suggested that more can be done to cultivate lands that might be able to withstand extreme weather conditions and identify drought-resistant varieties of produces. The second option he suggested is arranging controlled migration of the rural population to safer areas. He affirms that if Madagascar’s predicament worsens, authorities will need to reorganize communities and resettle them to farming lands. However, he warned that moving people could lead to tensions because “(T)hose arriving in cities are already very weak and if there is no work, it risks sparking insecurity” among communities.
The adversities affecting Madagascar are yet another reminder that global warming’s consequences are closer than what people think. Characterised by extreme weather conditions and natural disasters, 2021 has been coined by the United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, as the “make it or break it year”. He urged the international community “to invest in adaptation. One of the most powerful ways to adapt is to invest in early warning services and weather observing networks and hydrological services”. Worldwide leaders must not look away from Madagascar’s emergency situation and instead, understand this as a forewarning of things that have yet to come. The time of grand discourses and ineffective declarations has ended and the urgent need for action is here.
Written by Cinzia Saro
Cinzia Saro is a columnist at DecipherGrey.