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Madagascar: Worst Drought in History Claiming Lives

The global climate crisis has heightened and intensified a devastating drought in southern Madagascar, and it is experiencing one of its worst droughts in history. This is a stark reminder that climate change is already causing an immense amount of suffering and claiming lives.

The catastrophic hunger in Southern Madagascar has brought one million people to the brink of famine, Amnesty International said in a report. In its report, “It will be too late to help us once we are dead”, Amnesty documents the drought’s impact on the enjoyment of human rights for people in Madagascar’s “Deep South” region.

Ninety-one per cent of the population there lives below the poverty line and the organization is urging the international community to take immediate action to tackle the climate crisis. Amnesty is also urging them to protect people in countries like Madagascar which are acutely vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

 

Background

As per Amnesty International, the south of Madagascar has experienced four consecutive droughts. These droughts have wiped out harvests, hampered people’s access to food. The latest drought started in November last year and carried on to January 2021. The lean season, (the period between planting and harvesting) arrived early this year which compounded the ongoing hunger faced by people in the south and the drought had a huge impact on the affected communities. It is exposing people to hunger, malnutrition and death.

According to the WFP’s latest Food Security and Nutrition Snapshot covering the April to September 2021 period, 1.14 million people from the Deep South of Madagascar were facing high levels of acute food insecurity, as per Amnesty International. For the past four years, the lack of food has become a constant in their lives, reported ABC News.

Southern Madagascar is experiencing its worst drought in four decades.

© UNICEF/Lalaina Raoelison (Image via UN News)

 

‘The world’s first climate-change-induced near-famine in modern history’

In other countries, extreme hunger and near-famine conditions are caused due to war, conflict, or isolated weather events. However, in this part of Madagascar, the cause is so far unique or not common. Southern Madagascar is on the verge of becoming the world’s first climate-change-induced near-famine in modern history, as per ABC News.

Arduino Mangoni told ABC News he had “never seen people, especially children, in this situation that we’re seeing here.” Mangoni is the deputy country director of the World Food Programme in Madagascar. “I have seen people eating cactus leaves, insects, and surviving upon nothing, and the lack of water is probably the most striking element,” he said.

Southern Madagascar is experiencing its worst drought in forty years. This has made the land there too arid to farm which is leading to crop failure. Since the last four years, the severe lack of rain has resulted in depleted food sources as well as dried-up rivers. Climate change has also caused sandstorms that are affecting these lands. It is covering formerly arable land and rendering it infertile.

“As they cannot plant, it’s affecting their food security,” Patrick Vercammen, the World Food Programme’s emergency coordinator, told the “World News Tonight” anchor David Muir during a visit to Akanka Fokotany, an affected village. “Having sandstorms in this kind of landscape is not something usual and having the effects of sandstorms shows that nature is changing, the environment is changing, and the climate change is affecting this area more than the rest of Madagascar.”

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This situation is leading to pockets of what the UN classifies as “catastrophic” food insecurity signaling deepening hunger. The country has produced 0.01% of the world’s annual carbon emissions in the last eight decades, as per ABC News. However, the country is suffering some of the worst effects.

“It is not fair…these people have not contributed to climate change because they do not have electricity, they do not have cars etc., and they’re paying probably the highest price in terms of the consequences of climate change,” Mangoni said.

Children under five are among the most affected by malnutrition in southern Madagascar.

© WFP/Tsiory Andriantsoarana (Image via UN News)

 

According to ABC News, the children are the most affected. At least half a million kids under the age of five are expected to be acutely malnourished, according to the WFP and UNICEF. The agencies say about 110,000 children are already in severe condition. They are suffering irreversible damage to their growth.

“There is deep hunger, there is lack of access to water, lack of access to health (facilities). Children are particularly badly affected,” Agnes Callamard, Amnesty’s secretary-general, told Al Jazeera. “The international community must immediately provide the people in Madagascar affected by the drought with increased humanitarian relief and additional funding for the losses and damages suffered,” she said earlier.

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“It is a grave injustice that impacts of climate change are felt by people in developing countries the most considering that they have contributed the least to the climate crisis,” the rights group said.

Al Jazeera reported that in January, the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) appealed for emergency aid of USD 25 Million (INR 1849531250.00) to fight hunger in southern Madagascar. About three-quarters of Madagascar’s twenty-five million people live in poverty and the country has gone through sixteen recorded food crises since 1896, according to Al Jazeera.

As Madagascar makes an entry into the lean season, the necessity or need to provide food to those at risk of starvation has become more urgent and the Aid workers warned that, without action, they could run out of food resources by the end of the year, reported ABC News. The lean season is that dangerous time during which people wait for the next successful harvest.

The World Food Programme is “working together with the Malagasy government to alleviate some of the most acute needs in this region; prevent and treat children experiencing malnutrition; and build infrastructure and knowledge to make the population of southern Madagascar more resilient in the face of drought”, as per ABC News. WFP is supporting over 700,000 people in dire need. This need is expected to grow.

Find more information about the U.N. WFP’s lifesaving support in Madagascar: HERE
To help families in Madagascar, click: HERE

 

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