A boy is screened for malnutrition at an Action Against Hunger treatment centre in Madagascar.

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.

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.

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.

“It’s utterly heart-breaking to witness. For many of the children we’re supporting, our treatment is the difference between life and death.

“The hunger gap comes around every year, but it’s particularly tough at the moment. This year, the rain still hasn’t come and the population is suffering.”

Jean Delacroix Tsimanantsiny, Action Against Hunger Madagascar

A boy's temperate is checked at an Action Against Hunger project in Madagascar.

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
  • 8,582 with moderate acute malnutrition
  • 9,611 with other diseases.

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MadagascarA child being treated for malnutrition in Madagascar.

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Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world, with 75% of the population living on less than £1.50 a day.

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