By Katarzyna Rybarczyk
Because of its geographic location, Madagascar is amongst countries that are the most vulnerable to climate shocks. Most of its population lives in rural areas where the effects of climate change can be felt the most. Now, as a result of years of inadequate rainfall, Madagascar faces the worst drought in four decades, and entire villages are struggling to survive.
Julie Reverse, Médecins Sans Frontières’ operations coordinator in Madagascar, said ‘We’re seeing totally destitute people who have literally nothing to eat and are teetering on the edge of survival’.
Southern Madagascar has been affected the most, with around 74,000 people living there being acutely malnourished. This figure represents an increase of eighty per cent compared to last year. Sadly, according to the prognosis of the World Food Programme (WFP), the number is likely to increase significantly in the next few months.
What caused the food crisis?
Madagascar has a semi-arid climate, and the island is exposed to natural hazards linked to climate change, such as below-average rainfall, sandstorms, cyclones, and earthquakes. Southern Madagascar is particularly vulnerable to climate-related shocks and has been facing severe drought for three consecutive years. During the planting season in October, the south of the island saw only 50% of the usual rainfall, which means that it will produce only half of the typical harvest this year.
On top of that, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to disruptions in transport routes and supply chains. It also made it challenging for relief organisations to deliver food aid to remote areas in lockdown. These factors caused the economic downturn that further aggravated the already critical situation.
The scale of the problem
The WFP estimates that around 1.5 million people, which represents half of the region’s population, are reliant on food assistance. The drought conditions are likely to persist throughout 2021, pushing a third of Madagascar’s population into hunger.
To survive, people need to resort to desperate measures. Starving Malagasy have been eating cactuses, leaves, locusts, or even mud. Families living in rural areas, where sandstorms and deforestation have made the soil infertile, have been deprived of employment opportunities in agriculture and have no ways of getting income. Hence, hundreds of children have been forced to engage in child labour and begging.
Children are amongst those the worst affected by the food crisis because, as Amnesty International reports, ‘the lack of necessary nutrients prevents them from developing properly.’ Moreover, due to hunger, hundreds of children have been forced to quit education.
Need for immediate action!
The WFP is currently providing food assistance to around 500,000 people living in the South of Madagascar. Nevertheless, the situation is deteriorating rapidly, and some of the remote villages do not receive any food aid at all, Médecins Sans Frontières reported.
With insufficient financial and human resources, delivering food rations to all those in need is difficult. The country is gradually turning into a humanitarian catastrophe, and without immediate action, millions of innocent lives will be lost. The need for the international community to step up efforts to save the population of Madagascar is clear. Still, as Bérengère Guais, MSF Head of Emergency Operations, said, ‘The clock is ticking.’
About the author:
Katarzyna Rybarczyk is a Political Correspondent for Immigration News, a media platform affiliated with Immigration Advice Service. Through her articles, she aims to raise awareness about security threats worldwide and the challenges facing migrants.