Even before ‘lean season’ hits, tens of thousands of people in southern Madagascar are on the brink of catastrophic levels of hunger in the world’s first “climate change famine”, according to the United Nations.

Even before ‘lean season’ hits, tens of thousands of people in southern Madagascar are on the brink of catastrophic levels of hunger in the world’s first “climate change famine”, according to the United Nations.

The country is in the midst of the worst drought since 1981 after four years of insufficient rainfall and sandstorms, leaving isolated farming communities in southern Madagascar – known as Grand Sud – struggling to find enough food to survive.

According to the World Food Programme, roughly 28,000 people are currently experiencing extreme hunger, while at least 1.14 million people in the Grand Sud are suffering from acute food security in total.

Already, people are scavenging for wild leaves, cactus fruits and insects such as locusts in order to survive – aid workers told the Telegraph in May that the drought had pushed “entire villages to the brink of death”. But according to Médecins Sans Frontières, the “exceptionally severe” situation looks set to get worse, with the number of people facing starvation likely to hit 1.31 million by December.

The crisis is expected to deteriorate with the onset of the next lean season in October,” Mathilde Gueho, head of MSF Madagascar, told the Telegraph, referring to the period from September to March between harvests, when stocks run low.

The situation has been escalating across the Grand Sud since late 2020, with droughts and sandstorms wreaking havoc on harvests.

Shelley Thakral, a spokeswoman for the Africa office of the World Food Programme (WFP), told the Telegraph that the severe hunger crisis was the first to be driven by changing climate, rather than conflict. It is the first time climate change has been directly attributed to such a situation.

“This is unprecedented,” she said. “It’s the fact that this is pushing people towards catastrophe. People have been affected by climate before – for instance Cyclones Kenneth or Idai – but this drought has pushed tens of thousands of people to that catastrophe five point.”

Madagascar has consistently been ranked among the ten most climate vulnerable nations, but a major UN scientific report earlier this month warned that extreme heat and aridity are set to worsen in the country as the planet continues to warm.

But Ms Thakral said the current crisis has also been compounded by the pandemic. To date, some 40,000 Covid cases and 950 deaths have been reported in the island nation, while borders have remained largely closed. The loss of tourism has hit the economy hard.

“Under normal circumstances families would have short seasonal employment elsewhere on the island,” said Ms Thakral. “But because of Covid there have been no tourists. It’s had a massive impact on livelihoods.”

The pandemic has also complicated the delivery of food aid, which tends to arrive in Madagascar via cargo ships from South Africa or Djibouti – a journey that can take up to three months.

With the port in southern Madagascar closed due to Covid, all shipments arrive in the northeast of the country and take six to eight days to transport to the areas in need due to poor road infrastructure.

Experts say the immediate priority is to ensure food aid continues to enter the country – the WFP estimates that $78.6 million of funding will be needed in total to offer emergency food assistance this year.

But in the long term strategies to better cope with drought – such as crop diversification, improved water management systems and the use of drought-resistant crops – will also be critical, said Ms Thakral.

“People just can’t grow food and produce crops which they normally would have done,” she said. “So we need much more long term solutions, or we’ll be having these same conversations in six months, 12 months, two years.”

Source Telegraph UK

By Arsalan Ahmad

Arsalan Ahmad is a Research Engineer working on 2-D Materials, graduated from the Institute of Advanced Materials, Bahaudin Zakariya University Multan, Pakistan.LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/arsalanahmad-materialsresearchengr/