Much of the southern region of Madagascar has been placed in an emergency state according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC). According to IPC data, there are believed to be over 392,000 people living in phase 4, which is deemed an emergency state, and over 13,000 living in phase 5, which is deemed a catastrophic state. The IPC expects the number of people in phase 5 to double by October to December, around the time food stock is normally low.
The region has been hit with a series of climate catastrophes over the years. Strong dust storms, which locals have called a “tiomena”, have become more common in the southern area of the country. The tiomenas have destroyed many food crops, and as a result, people have not been able to grow crops since October 2020. Soil erosion, higher temperatures, and other phenomena caused by climate change have also made the cultivation of crops very difficult. According to an interview with the World Food Programme director for Southern Africa, Lola Castro, in the rainy season that lasts from November to December, there was only one day of rain. Castro also identified the COVID-19 pandemic as a contributing factor in Madagascar’s crisis. Most people in the southern area rely on casual labour to support themselves, however, many struggled to find work due to the lockdowns.
People have been forced to turn to desperate measures and eat insects such as locusts, wild leaves and roots, and a mixture of white clay and tamarind juice to survive. According to the Ministry of Health, global acute malnutrition levels in children under five have doubled in the last four months. Many do not have access to clean water in addition to a lack of food. Illnesses such as malaria, respiratory infections as well as bilharzia, a waterborne disease caused by parasitic flatworms, have been spreading in the communities due to unsafe water and malnutrition.
The Malagasy government and the World Food Programme have been distributing food such as rice since October 2020. Despite these efforts, Theodore Mbainaissem, head of WFP’s office in Ambovombe, one of the hardest affected areas in Madagascar, said in an interview with Climate Home News that the resources offered by UN agencies came too late. According to Mbainaissem, resources could not match the escalating demand for help due to COVID-19 restrictions and restricted air travel.
Recent efforts have been short-term focused, looking to address malnutrition and hunger issues, however, many believe that the focus should be towards more long-term solutions. While speaking to Climate Home News Andriamparany Ranoasy, director of the national farmers’ confederation, Fifata, suggested that “identifying areas where irrigation could be developed, rolling out nutritious and drought-tolerant crops such as sorghum and some varieties of sweet potato, and reforesting areas to increase water retention in soils will be necessary to improve resilience.”
Ranoasy went on to say that he believes that if the crisis does not slow down within the next few years, many will be forced to leave areas most affected by the drought. Castro has insisted that urgent action is needed to prevent the crisis from escalating to a worse point. The WFP is appealing to the international community, asking for $74 million for relief efforts such as improving access to water, food, and medical care.
While many countries are currently only having to address COVID-19 related issues, the people of Madagascar have to address an impending famine crisis along with a global pandemic. While we wait for more funding and resources to be allocated to Madagascar, those with the privilege of access to nutritious food and clean water must stand in solidarity with those affected by famine and help to bring awareness to the tragedy in Madagascar.