More than 1 million people in southern Madagascar need food aid amidst four successive years of severe drought. According to the World Food Programme (WFP), the country could be facing what will become the world’s first climate-change-induced famine. The WFP reports around 700,000 people are already receiving food aid, but increased emergency aid is necessary, as rural communities are being pushed to desperate measures to survive.
Families report resorting to eating locusts, fruit, and cactus leaves, usually used for feeding cattle, to survive. Even the cacti are dying as water becomes more scarce. Additionally, families are increasingly forced to sell their cattle and other valuable assets such as fields or homes. The UN reports that women and children comprise most of those experiencing “crisis” or “emergency” hunger conditions. Families are being forced to pull their children out of school as food insecurity deepens. Often, this is so they can focus “forces on finding income-generating activities,” said Alice Rahmoun, WFP Communications Officer. This has a “direct impact on education.”
Even before current climate-change-related food insecurity, Madagascar’s populations were vulnerable. According to Amnesty International, more than 90% of the population in Madagascar’s “Deep South” region lives below the poverty line. Additionally, a 2020 UN News report described 5 million of Madagascar’s total population of 25 million as living in a “natural disaster-prone area.”
Under normal circumstances, Madagascar experienced a dry season from May to October and a rainy season that starts in November. Under these circumstances, the south’s population “relies on casual labour and goes to urban areas or the fields to have additional funds that will allow them to survive during the lean season, that is normally between November and April every year,” said Lola Castro, WFP Regional Director for Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean States. “This year, there was no labour, they moved around without finding any labour anywhere, both in urban areas or in the rural areas, due to the drought and due to the COVID lockdown.”
Climate change has caused infrequent rain and intense sand winds, disrupting typical agricultural patterns. Farmers throughout the region say the ground has become so hard it is nearly impossible to plant the usual crops of corn, rice, or cassava. Those who have successfully planted crops report sandstorms ruining them before they’re ready to be harvested.
“Harvests fail constantly, so people don’t have anything to harvest and anything to renew their food stocks,” Ms. Rahmoun said in a statement to UN News. Previously, many have relied on these small, primarily rain-fed farms to survive. Now, their entire way of life has been disrupted, and the threat of famine looms overhead.
The people of southern Madagascar are victims of a crisis, not of their making. Studies concur that developed countries “account for just 12 percent of the global population today but are responsible for 50 percent of all the planet-warming greenhouse gases released from fossil fuels and industry over the past 170 years.” As such, these countries must be held accountable and provide financial compensation to those less developed countries, which will face disproportionate consequences as temperatures continue to rise.
As the 2021 United Nations Climate Conference (COP26) came to a close, the G-77 group of developing countries expressed “extreme disappointment” at the failure to set up a fund compensating countries for climate change linked loss and damages. Over a decade ago, many of the world’s wealthiest economies pledged to contribute nearly $100 billion annually in climate finance for poorer countries, of which they have fallen short tens of billions yearly.
This has particularly devastating consequences for countries like Madagascar, which do not possess the financial resources necessary to mitigate climate change’s effects single-handedly. Plans to construct a pipeline to bring water from northern Madagascar to drought-stricken areas in the south, estimated to cost around $900 million, have gone unfulfilled due to lack of funding. Rich countries must make immediate and drastic changes to their climate change policies and adhere to their promise of allocating funds to developing countries to combat climate change’s effects, including funding infrastructure projects like the pipeline in Madagascar.
Already, many of climate change’s effects are irreversible. The time for debate has long passed. As southern Madagascar descends into famine, all that’s left is immediate action to prevent worsening crises. As such, rich countries must start taking accountability for their role in the climate crises: curtailing emissions, closely regulating corporate activities, implementing more sustainable practices in all facets of life, and paying, in full, their part of the annual $100B to be allocated to developing countries. It would be advisable to increase this number altogether, as a mere $100 billion is nowhere near enough to adequately address the havoc climate change and natural disasters wreak in vulnerable communities.
Finally, rich countries should cooperate in funding the WFP as they provide emergency food assistance throughout southern Madagascar. As of now, the organization requires $69 million to continue its operations until April 2022. Ensuring humanitarian organizations are funded to continue their work should be a top priority.
Some things are worth more than what any price tag could ever convey, and the security of people and their communities is one of them. As Baomiavotse Vahinala Raharinirina, Madagascar’s minister for the environment and sustainable development, said, “It’s not aid. It’s accountability.”
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