Having contributed nearly “zero” of the emissions that are driving the climate crisis, the people of Madagascar are now at serious risk of starvation as global heating brings crop-decimating drought, dust storms, and locust plagues.
The southern part of the famously beautiful and ecologically unique island, located 400 kilometres off the coast of East Africa, “is experiencing its worst drought in decades, with the World Food Program warning that 1.14 million people are food-insecure and 400,000 people are headed toward starvation,” reports The Washington Post.
And while conflict is a contributor to starvation in many vulnerable countries—like Nigeria and South Sudan—that is not the case in Madagascar. Here, the foot soldiers decimating food supplies are drought, locust swarms, and dust storms known as tiomena, all working to advance what World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley called “an unprecedented famine of biblical proportions” at last week’s G20 event in Italy.
In his talk, Beasley pled for US$78.6 million in funding “to help get Madagascar through the lean season, which begins in the fall and lasts until the spring.” He told participants that “the global acute malnutrition (GAM) level in children under five in Madagascar has almost doubled over the last four months, to an alarming 16.5%.” That rate is hitting 27% in the worst-hit areas, he added, “enough to bring even the most hardened humanitarian to tears.”
The dust storms have been particularly merciless, killing cacti (a traditional food source in times of famine), as well as crops and entire herds of grazing animals. And the violent winds that attend these storms are stripping away what remains of fertile soil.
The country is fighting to adapt as best it can with improved irrigation techniques and new crops, the Post says. But observers fear that worsening food insecurity could inflame past ethnic divisions.
There is some movement on the finance front, with the G20 vowing to do more to fight food insecurity via its Matera Declaration, and the Biden administration promising last month an additional US$40 million in aid. But the Post writes that “the scale of the problem can’t be underestimated, nor the responsibility.” Lola Castro, WFP’s regional director in southern Africa, described how citizens of southern Madagascar do not drive, do not have power, and have “contributed zero to climate change” even as they are ravaged by its effects.
“It’s a moral imperative to support them,” she said.