Donald Trump may have built a successful presidential run in part on denying the reality of climate change. But that doesn’t stop people from dying from its effects, in the midst of a crippling drought across much of Africa.
“Trump has repeatedly mocked climate change, once even calling it a hoax fabricated by China. But climate change here is as tangible as its victims,” reports New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who travelled to Madagascar with a videography team to document a mounting humanitarian tragedy.
“Climate change, disproportionately caused by carbon emissions from America, seems to be behind a severe drought that has led crops to wilt across seven countries in southern Africa,” he writes. “The result is acute malnutrition for 1.3 million children in the region,” according to United Nations estimates.
“Southern Africa’s drought and food crisis have gone largely unnoticed around the world,” Kristof reports. “The situation has been particularly severe in Madagascar,” where “families are slowly starving because rains and crops have failed for the last few years. They are reduced to eating cactus and even rocks or ashes. The United Nations estimates that nearly one million people in Madagascar alone need emergency food assistance.”
Kristof writes about a young mother who walked barefoot through the desert for 12 hours to get her 18-month-old son to an emergency feeding station. “I feel so powerless as a mother, because I know how much I love my child,” she said. “But whatever I do just doesn’t work.”
Kristof says the young woman had never heard of the United States or Donald Trump. “Yet we Americans may be inadvertently killing her infant son.”
“As an American, I’m proud to see U.S. assistance saving lives here,” Kristof writes, “but my pride is mixed with guilt: The United States single-handedly accounts for more than one-quarter of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions over the last 150 years, more than twice as much as any other country.”
He adds: “The basic injustice is that we rich countries produced the carbon that is devastating impoverished people from Madagascar to Bangladesh. In America, climate change costs families beach homes; in poor countries, parents lose their children.”
The veteran reporter proposes a teachable moment for the empathy-challenged U.S. president. “Trump should come and feel these children’s ribs and watch them struggle for life,” he writes. “It’s true that the links between our carbon emissions and any particular drought are convoluted, but overall, climate change is as palpable as a wizened, glassy-eyed child dying of starvation.”
The southern African countries of Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe are all in severe drought, along with East Africa and the Horn of Africa.