Introduction

The most alarming impacts of global climate change include severe heat waves and constant droughts that adversely impact the economy, agriculture, the crop calendar, and ecosystems. However, the poorest communities that contributed the least to the creation of carbon emissions are the ones facing the hardest consequences.1“Madagascar: “We Have Nothing to Eat Because of the Drought”, Action Against Hunger, August 11, 2021, https://www.actionagainsthunger.org/story/madagascar-we-have-nothing-eat-because-drought, accessed November 6, 2022.

For example, Madagascar, the planet’s fourth-largest island with thousands of plants and animal species, is degenerating into a “red” desert. The country, particularly its southern region, is witnessing the first famine in the world caused by climate change. Consequently, more than one million people in southern Madagascar have become victims of a major food crisis and need food aid from the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).2Doloresz Katanich, “How climate change is turning once green Madagascar into a desert,” Euro News, March 20, 2022, https://www.euronews.com/green/2022/03/20/how-climate-change-is-turning-once-green-madagascar-into-a-desert, accessed November 4, 2022.

According to the Global Carbon Project data in 2021, Madagascar annually produces about 0.01 percent of the world’s annual carbon dioxide emissions,  which are causing severe changes and transformations in global climate.3Samanth Subramanian, “Madagascar is suffering from a climate change famine,” World Economic Forum, September 3, 2021, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/09/how-climate-change-is-causing-famine-in-madagascar/, accessed November 5, 2022. Despite the fact that Madagascar produces almost none of the world’s annual carbon emissions, the country suffers from the worst climate change impacts.4Noah Smith, “How is Climate Change Affecting Southern Madagascar? The Climate Crisis and Extreme Drought,” Columbia Blogs, November 12, 2021, https://blogs.cuit.columbia.edu/rightsviews/2021/11/12/how-is-climate-change-affecting-southern-madagascar-the-climate-crisis-and-extreme-drought, accessed November 5, 2022.

Understanding the impact of climate change on the food crisis in the Grand Sud

Madagascar is a country with a unique ecosystem: a dry season lasting from May to October and a rainy season from November to April.5“Madagascar: Severe drought could spur world’s first climate change famine,” United Nations, October 21 , 2021, https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/10/1103712, accessed November 5, 2022; GFDRR. “Vulnerability, Risk Reduction, and Adaptation to Climate Change – Madagascar,” Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, Available at: https://climateknowledgeportal.worldbank.org/sites/default/files/2018-10/wb_gfdrr_climate_change_country_profile_for_MDG.pdf Climate change contributed to the disruption of this cycle and its impact has been severe.6“Madagascar: Severe drought could spur world’s first climate change famine,” United Nations, October 21, 2021, https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/10/1103712, accessed November 5, 2022. These impacts come out in bold relief in the Grand Sud of Madagascar.

The livelihood of 95 percent of the population in the Grand Sud depends on agriculture, raising livestock, and fishing.7“Madagascar – Drought & Tropical Cyclone Response Fact Sheet #2 Fiscal Year (FY) 2022,” USAID, 2022, https://reliefweb.int/report/madagascar/madagascar-drought-tropical-cyclone-response-fact-sheet-2-fiscal-year-fy-2022. The Grand Sud witnessed a long drought period that began in 2019 and continued until January 2022, which led to crop failures. As a result, the production of cassava and maize declined. Since agriculture in the country depends on rainfall, people were not able to produce or afford food and provide for their families. The droughts caused the suffering of more than 1.6 million people in the Grand Sud at the beginning of 2022 as a result of high food insecurity levels. Moreover, there was a 300 percent increase in the cost of water by the end of 2021 compared to 2018 and 2019 and increasing levels of food insecurity as people faced difficulties in accessing water for agriculture, drinking, or food production. On the other hand, the destruction of vegetative cover and top soils by prolonged drought fed into sandstorms that have intensified since 2019 in the Grand Sud. The sandstorms overran and piled sand on farmlands, destroying crops and harvests from 2020-2021.8“Madagascar: Food insecurity crisis in the Grand Sud regions,” ACAPS, 2022, https://reliefweb.int/report/madagascar/madagascar-food-insecurity-crisis-grand-sud-regions,

Amboasary and Ambovombe—areas located in the south with approximately 3 million residents—continue to suffer from the consequences of crop failures due to extreme drought. Whereas 75 percent of the population is facing severe hunger, 14,000 people are on the edge of famine in the town of Amboasary Atsimo.9“Climate and Environment.” UN, August 21, 2021, https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/08/1098042, accessed November 4, 2022. 14,000 people in the Atsimo-Andrefana region were victims of catastrophe/famine food insecurity between the months of April and September 2021. Also, more than 1.47 million people in Androy, Anosy, and Atsimo-Andrefana faced food insecurity and needed food assistance in December 2021.10“Madagascar: Food insecurity crisis in the Grand Sud regions,” ACAPS, 2022, https://reliefweb.int/report/madagascar/madagascar-food-insecurity-crisis-grand-sud-regions.

Based on the WFP, approximately 960,000 people were affected by the tropical cyclones and storms that occurred between the months of January and April 2022 which, besides exacerbating food insecurity, caused the deaths of 214 people. As reported by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 285,000 acres of cropland across the southern Atsimo-Atsinanana, Fitovinany, and Vatovavy regions were damaged by the tropical cyclones in February 2022. As a consequence, food access was limited and agricultural production was badly affected. In March 2022, 470,000 people in Atsimo-Atsinanana, Fitovinany, and Vatovavy needed emergency food assistance.11“Madagascar – Drought & Tropical Cyclone Response Fact Sheet #2 Fiscal Year (FY) 2022,” USAID, 2022, https://reliefweb.int/report/madagascar/madagascar-drought-tropical-cyclone-response-fact-sheet-2-fiscal-year-fy-2022.

With the disappearance of food sources, families switched to other survival methods that include eating cacti and wild leaves as well as locusts, which they used previously to feed cattle.12“Climate magnifies hunger in Madagascar, forecasted poor rains bring dread and despair, ” World Food Programme, November 2, 2021, https://www.wfp.org/news/climate-magnifies-hunger-madagascar-forecasted-poor-rains-bring-dread-and-despair, accessed November 5, 2022. As a result, there have been reports of growing malnutrition, especially among children. The situation became worse with the cacti dying as a result of the prolonged drought.13“Madagascar: Severe drought could spur world’s first climate change famine, ” United Nations, October 21, 2021, https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/10/1103712, accessed November 5, 2022. The coping strategies adopted by families included selling their houses, cattle, or fields in order to buy food. Some of them withdrew their children from schools to involve them in finding alternative ways of generating income for the family.14Ibid.

Furthermore, children suffering from malnutrition faced the risk of mental and physical damage.15“Climate magnifies hunger in Madagascar, forecasted poor rains bring dread and despair,” World Food Programme, November 2 , 2021, https://www.wfp.org/news/climate-magnifies-hunger-madagascar-forecasted-poor-rains-bring-dread-and-despair, accessed November 5, 2022. The Global Acute Malnutrition level in children under the age of 5 has doubled in Madagascar and reached 16.5% in 2021, which puts them at risk of development and growth delay.16Noah Smith, “How is Climate Change Affecting Southern Madagascar? The Climate Crisis and Extreme Drought, ” Columbia Blogs, November 12, 2021, https://blogs.cuit.columbia.edu/rightsviews/2021/11/12/how-is-climate-change-affecting-southern-madagascar-the-climate-crisis-and-extreme-drought, accessed November 5, 2022. It is forecasted that, between May 2022 and April 2023, there will be almost 479,000 cases of acute malnutrition in the south and southeast of Madagascar.17Abela Ralaivita, “Coping with Climate Change in Southern Madagascar,”UNICEF, September 26, 2022, https://www.unicef.org/madagascar/en/stories/coping-climate-change-southern-madagascar, accessed November 7, 2022.

International efforts made so far to face the food crisis

The FAO, supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (USAID/BHA), has been providing different kinds of assistance to the communities in the Atsimo-Adrefana region. These include veterinary supplies, drought-tolerant seeds, and fishing equipment. Approximately 1,085 metric tons of emergency food assistance in addition to cash to purchase food were presented by the WFP to more than 370,000 people across Madagascar between the months of January and April 2022. 11,400 of the 370,000 people received aid in April 2022 in Antananarivo and the eastern coastal regions of Analanjirofo, Atsimo-Atsinanana, Atsinanana, Fitovinany, and Vatovavy. Additionally, vulnerable people received $1.2 million from the UN agency between January and April 2022.18“Madagascar – Drought & Tropical Cyclone Response Fact Sheet #2 Fiscal Year (FY) 2022,” USAID, 2022, https://reliefweb.int/report/madagascar/madagascar-drought-tropical-cyclone-response-fact-sheet-2-fiscal-year-fy-2022.

In addition to the aforementioned aid, USAID is also assisting the most under-nourished and vulnerable communities in Madagascar to be more resilient in the face of natural disasters and helping farmers improve their techniques to increase food production. Other means of assistance include the reforestation of thousands of hectares of land, dredging irrigation canals, and rehabilitating thousands of kilometers of rural roads with the aim of facilitating access to social services and markets.19“Food Security and Disaster Assistance,” USAID, February 1, 2022, https://www.usaid.gov/madagascar/food-security-and-disaster-assistance, accessed November 7, 2022.

As reported by the WFP in November 2021, it presented monthly supplementary nutrition products as well as emergency life-saving food for 700,000 people, including children as well as pregnant and nursing women.20“Climate magnifies hunger in Madagascar, forecasted poor rains bring dread and despair,” World Food Programme, November 2, 2021, https://www.wfp.org/news/climate-magnifies-hunger-madagascar-forecasted-poor-rains-bring-dread-and-despair, accessed November 5, 2022. The WFP, in cooperation with the government in Madagascar, implemented activities with the aim of assisting communities to adapt to climate change. Furthermore, economic support was also offered, such as access to microinsurance schemes during crop failure. Moreover, in order to help with the recovery of the lost harvest and failed maize crops, 3,500 households received in September 2021 the sum of US$100.21Ibid.

In addition, “Action Against Hunger,” a global humanitarian organization, is teaching communities in Madagascar about climate change. It also promotes sustainable agricultural production and helps farmers in managing their lands, improving natural resource management, and changing farming techniques such as plot orientation to achieve food security and cope with climate change.22“Madagascar: “We Have Nothing to Eat Because of the Drought,” Action Against Hunger, August 11, 2021, https://www.actionagainsthunger.org/story/madagascar-we-have-nothing-eat-because-drought/, (accessed November 6, 2022).

Conclusion

Despite the support and aid offered to the people in the Grand Sud, the region is on the verge of a severe humanitarian crisis. It needs innovative responses as Madagascar is unable to afford risk and water resource management systems, as well as irrigation systems without any external assistance.

The international community should collaborate in mitigating the severe effects of climate change on vulnerable countries and people, including the Grand Sud of Madagascar. This could be done by showing solidarity with the people through funding and expanding aid operations to reach the largest number of people in cooperation with the government of Madagascar. An improved risk management system should be established, as well as funding climate adaptation programs. People should also be supported by providing sustainable food resources and healthcare. Additionally, farmers should be provided with the required technologies and infrastructure that enable them to practice crop rotation in order to improve soil health and optimize its nutrients.

With the conclusion of the COP 27 summit in Egypt in November 2022, one of the issues that emerged is the importance of climate finance to support vulnerable communities against the negative impact of climate change. This is an opportunity to assist countries such as Madagascar in order to prevent the escalation of the food crisis amid the deleterious impacts of climate change.

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