Madagascar: on the frontline of a climate-driven hunger crisis
The effects of climate change are ravaging the southern districts of Madagascar, a country that produces just 0.01% of global emissions. The frequency and intensity of droughts have risen sharply in the last few years – having a devastating impact on the health of people living there.
By Action Against Hunger
21 July 2021
Madagascar is teetering on the brink of a famine it has played little or no part in creating. With the country now in the grip of the worst drought in 40 years, the UN is warning that half a million people are heading towards starvation.
The scale of this crisis is immense. In some communities, entire families are surviving on cactus leaves alone. In others, mothers are mixing tamarind with ashes from the fire – just to put something in their children’s stomachs.
Photographer Stéphane Rakotomalala joined our medical mobile teams in the towns of Ambovombe and Anpanihy, where climate change is having a huge impact on child malnutrition.
According to the UN, nearly 14,000 people are already experiencing famine conditions in Madagascar’s Grand Sud region. Among children under five, 27,134 are suffering from severe acute malnutrition – the most life-threatening form of hunger.
A child waits to be assessed by a specialist. According to our staff, the situation is deteriorating: “It has got much worse. Before, there were around 80 children in the health centres in this area and now there are almost 400. That’s why we must come in and help out," explains Hamelo Lahimalio, a nurse from one of our mobile teams.
The lack of water is already chronic, but a lack of rainfall is further aggravating this shortage. The number of waterborne diseases, such as diarrhoea, is soaring – putting children at increased risk of becoming severely malnourished.
Action Against Hunger has 25 mobile teams across Madagascar's southern regions. Cases of severe acute malnutrition are higher in these remote areas.
We use a range of measurements to assess whether a child is malnourished. One of these is measuring arm circumference with a MUAC band, which can indicate the severity of malnutrition. Providing these bands to mothers means they can monitor their child’s progress and alert the team if they their child's health deteriorating.
An Action Against Hunger staff member loads up the trucks before heading out. Our teams in Madagascar reached 127,960 people in 2020 through our nutrition, food security, mental health and water, sanitation and hygiene programmes.
The devastating effects of the climate crisis
Climate change is happening today – and for the people of Madagascar its consequences are already deadly.
The kéré – which roughly translates as famine in Malagasy – has become frequent in the south, especially during prolonged dry seasons when agricultural production is low due to a lack of rain.
The kéré arrived in certain areas as early as 2017 and has never left. Successive droughts and vicious sandstorms – known as tiomena – have destroyed crops and turned arable land to desert. The impact of Covid-19 has also increased food prices and reduced job opportunities.
A lack of rainfall and dry lands have made a bad situation worse. With temperatures reaching 35° during the hot season, families often have little choice but to consume whatever water they can find, leading to a spike in the number of waterborne diseases.
Not only do waterborne diseases, such as diarrhoea, pose their own health risks to children, they also increase the likelihood of a child becoming malnourished. Malnutrition remains the biggest killer of children under five around the world, contributing to almost half (45 per cent) of all infant deaths.
How Action Against Hunger is helping
Action Against Hunger’s teams specialise in treating child malnutrition and we’re one of the few organisations working in Madagascar’s southern districts. Our staff provide treatment to communities who normally don’t have access to health facilities.
But our teams are now helping more children than ever. Between October and March last year, our teams in the south of the country treated:
8,727 children under five with severe acute malnutrition