At certain times, Tsimamorekm Aly, a resident of Madagascar, can only consume sweet water as a substitute for food. He was happy if he had the opportunity to eat rice. However, with the condition of six small children and a wife to support, Aly often chooses not to eat.
This is the fourth year that a drought has destroyed Aly’s home in southern Madagascar. There are currently more than one million people, or two in five residents, in its Grand Sud area who need emergency food assistance. The United Nations calls it a “climate change hunger.”
“The previous years it rained, it rained a lot. I grew sweet potatoes and I had a lot of money. I even got married because I was rich,” said Aly, 44.
“Things have changed,” he said, standing on a stretch of ocher ground where the only green plant visible was a tall, spiky cactus.
Climate change is hitting the island nation located in the Indian Ocean. Several UN agencies have warned in recent months of “climate change hunger” in the region.
“The situation in the south of the country is really worrying,” said Alice Rahmoun, spokeswoman for the United Nations World Food Program in Madagascar. “I visited several districts … and heard from families how climate change was driving them hungry.”
Researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara say rainfall patterns in Madagascar are growing more erratic – they’ve been below the average for nearly six years.
“In some villages, the last proper rain occurred three years ago, in other villages eight years ago or even 10 years ago,” said Rahmoun. “The fields are bare, the seeds don’t germinate and there’s no food.”
Temperatures in southern Africa have doubled from global levels, says the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Typhoons, which are already more common in Madagascar than any other African country, are likely to get stronger as Earth’s temperatures warm, the US government said.
Conflict has been a major cause of famine in countries such as Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen, as a series of wars have stopped people moving in search of food. But conflict does not occur in peaceful Madagascar.
“Climate change is having a huge impact and is highlighting hunger in Madagascar,” President Andry Rajoelina said while visiting the worst-affected areas earlier this month. “Madagascar is a victim of climate change.”
The World Carbon Project says the country produces less than 0.01 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.
Half a million children in Madagascar are estimated to be acutely malnourished, and 110,000 of them are in very serious condition, says the United Nations Children’s Fund. This causes developmental delays, illness and death
Nutriset, the French company that produces the Plumpy’Nut emergency food, opened a factory in southern Madagascar last week. They aim to produce 600 tons of food every year. The resulting food will be enriched with therapies made from nuts, sugar and milk for malnourished children.
The Malagasy government also provided plots of land to several families who had moved from the worst-hit areas. Two hundred families received land with chickens and goats, which was more drought tolerant than cattle. They are also encouraged to grow cassava, which is more drought tolerant than maize.
“It was a natural disaster,” said Aly. “May God help us.” [ah/rs]