Shall Madagascar wade through climate change?

Malnourished children in Southern Madagascar taking a meal. PHOTO/WFP, Krystyna Kovalenko.

My zeal to see Africa emancipate herself from the shackles of climate change has always pushed me into writing about it.

I centre my writing on Africa, the continent likely to be hardest hit, according to weather scientists.

In obedience, I have written about it, I am writing about it and I will write about it, because it matters!

Madagascar, an island located off the east coast of Africa, is the world’s fifth largest island.

It covers a land area of 587, 041 km², which is about 144 million acres.

According to Macrotrends, as at 2021, Madagascar shelters a population of around 28.4 million people, a 2.66% increase from 2020.

The island is endowed with vast areas of rain forests, plateaus, deserts and tropical dry forests.

All these ecological spaces are home to thousands of animal and plant species, some of which are found nowhere else on the planet.

Statistics have it that an estimated 95% of the island’s reptiles, 92% of its mammals and 89% of its plant species exist nowhere else on Earth.

No wonder the country is famous for herbal medicine production.

An illustration of Madagascar’s ecology and challenges. SOURCE/USAID Madagascar.

Such a rich biodiversity makes it more destructive to lose a single hectare of land in Madagascar than losing many hectares elsewhere.

The Malagasy (as it’s inhabitants are known) is a conglomerate of over 20 ethnic groups, drawn from different cultures and religious persuasions.

They however speak in a common language, sharing the same name with its speakers, Malagasy.

With the country experiencing a number of climate-related challenges, data reveals that almost 80% of the people are trapped below the poverty line, depending heavily on rain fed agriculture.

Generally, Madagascar experiences two main seasons: a dry season from May to October and a rainy season from November to April.

The country has for the last few years felt the heavy blow of climate change, aggravated by its location amidst the Indian Ocean.

Powerful cyclones and floods along the coast and unpredictable droughts on the South of Madagascar have immensely impacted the biodiversity of the country and threatened human life.

In 2020, UNICEF expressed early concerns about possible malnutrition, projecting that 42% of Malagasy children under the age of five suffered from malnourishment.

Currently, the Southern region of Madagascar is facing it’s worst drought in 40 years, having gone for four years now without rain.

Hundreds of thousands of Malagasy, most sources estimating them at over a million, are on the verge of a food crisis, a situation experts are linking to climate change.

In spite of having contributed an almost insignificant 0.01% of all the carbon dioxide generated from 1933 to 2019, the United Nations says that this might be the first “climate change famine” being witnessed on the planet.

People, weighed down by hunger, with only dry wind and dust storms reigning in the air after the better part of domestic animals is dead, have resolved to eat insects, cactus leaves, plant roots, wild leaves and locusts to survive.

“I clean the insects as best as I can but there’s almost no water,” said Tamaria, a mother of four, in an interview with BBC.

She adds that with her children, they have been eating insects for eight months now.

As at late June this year, the World Food Programme reported that 75% of children had abandoned school, opting to either forage or beg for food.

Hundreds of Malagasy digging way deep into the river’s water table, thirsty for water. PHOTO/Sky

Due to failure of the rains, acute water shortage has been witnessed in the island, with people being compelled to walk for over 15 kilometres in search of water.

Over 58% of the Malagasy are lacking clean water for use.

The rivers are quickly drying.

People are now banding together to dig holes on the sand, way deep into the river’s water table in search of water.

According to sources, all through July 2021, UN kept a keener eye on the situation, noting that children under five years of age with lifelong nutrition problems had increased to half a million, placing some 110,000 of them in acute and severe malnutrition.

Reports by the local media in Madagascar recently said that out of the 2.5 million people inhabiting the Southern region, 1.2 million are already engulfed by food insecurity while an additional 400,000 are in a critical famine situation.

Addressing the International Development Association in Ivory Coast in July 2021, Malagasy President Andry Rajoelina pleaded for help, while at the same time faulting countries instigating climate change.

“My compatriots in the South are suffering a heavy toll from the climate crisis which they did not participate,” he argued.

Undoubtedly, it’s a sad situation.

The food insecurity seems to slowly encroach to the other regions of the country.

Food prices in the market have long doubled, even tripling in most places.

While some are risking their lives sleeping on their farms guarding the little crops available, others are being compelled to sell land to buy food for their families.

Vanilla farmers in the Northern Madagascar are also suffering food insecurity due to wavering prices in the vanilla market, coupled with natural disasters, sources report.

Apart from the current hunger and drought, climate change has deeply affected the health system of the country.

A drying river in Madagascar. Over 58% of Malagasy are lacking clean water. PHOTO/ReliefWeb.

A report on Assessment of Risk, Vulnerability and Adaptation to Climate Change by the Health Sector in Madagascar reflects that infectious diseases, emerging and re-emerging diseases and non-communicable diseases remain the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in both adults and children in Madagascar.

Most of these diseases are sensitive to climate conditions and are projected to rise in the future as global temperatures rise and as extreme events such as droughts and floods become more severe and frequent.

Malaria, acute respiratory infections, diarrheal diseases and malnutrition are of deeper concern.

As this situation continues to ravage the country, however, Africa and the World have not been silent.

Both government and non-government organizations have lend a helping hand to Madagascar, in efforts to combat the situation.

Sources agree that World Food Programme, Malagasy government and UN have been working in unison to restore food security in the country.

The United States government pledged an additional $40 million of aid in June to combat hunger in southern Madagascar during an announcement made by US ambassador to Madagascar Michael Pelletier, along with President Rajoelina.

Many other organizations have since come to the aid of the Malagasy people, with the Doctors Without Borders global health organization setting up health facilities to help the people.

As at July 2021, the situation was being predicted to peak by January 2022, unless the matter got enough urgency, worsening drastically between October and December 2021, due to insufficient food stock and inflation caused by COVID-19.

ABC World News Tonight recently released a cover story on the situation early this November and almost 22,000 donors mustered financial aid, achieving $2.7m aimed at rescuing the victims through WFP.

Amidst all this, shall Madagascar survive?

Yes, it shall. I am persuaded.

With more African government agencies, foreign aid, experts and non-government organizations joining hands to combat the hunger with consistent measures, it will end in joy.

Charcoal burning in Madagascar is robbing the island of its ecological heritage. PHOTO/Pacific Standard.
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Mr. Makau holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Linguistics, Media & Communication from Moi University, Kenya. He is a Columnist and Editor with Scholar Media Africa, with a keen interest in Education, Health, Climate Change, and Literature.


  1. This article gives a real picture of the country it is featuring, a real poverty, suffering, climate change and its effects, Good work, congrats


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