Madagascar Faces World’s First 100% Climate Caused Famine

Image: Sarvesh Lutchmun via Wikimedia Commons

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

Madagascar is facing the world’s first famine caused entirely by climate change. 

  • 1.14 million people on the island nation are now considered food-insecure, and locals are scraping by on last-resort food sources like raw cactus and locusts. What’s worse: there is no end in sight.

The next planting season is less than two months away, and the forecast for food production is bleak,” writes World Food Program (WFP) spokesperson Shelley Thakral. “The land is covered by sand; there is no water and little chance of rain.”

Why This Matters: What’s happening in Madagascar is a preview of what a growing number of countries could face in the coming decades. Once in a generation droughts like the one Madagascar is facing are becoming permanent fixtures worldwide, including in the American West.

For countries that rely on domestic agriculture, rather than trade, for food supply, climate change will hit them first and hit them hard. Many of these countries are unable to afford climate adaptation technology. As the U.S. makes alliances to rally global climate ambition, the world must protect those living at the forefront of the climate crisis. If they don’t, famine could turn to conflict, displacement, and humanitarian crises across the globe.

A Second Plague: Erratic weather patterns and drought are primarily responsible for mass food insecurity in Madagascar.

  • Five of the last six rainy seasons have brought below-average rainfall, and each year, the monsoon season arrives later.
  • Increasing dust storms called tiomenas and swarms of locusts have also devastated the land.

Over the five last years, tiomenas have become more and more frequent…There were no rains over the three last years,” said Jean-Louis Tovosoa, a local resident and father of 15. “Because of the persistent drought, violent winds have swept away the good soil for cultivation. They have killed the cactus plants, which are vital for us in the time of famine. They have also destroyed crops and killed animals such as zebus pcattle], sheep and goats.”

Oxfam is now referring to increasing food insecurity as a “hunger pandemic,” and WFP chief David Beasley said that more countries could face “unprecedented famine of biblical proportions” in the coming years. The WFP warns that the number of people in Madagascar facing phase 5 catastrophic food insecurity could double by October. The organization says that to provide food and life-saving aid to the country over the next lean season will take $78.6 million. Still, to avoid future crises, the country will need help to deploy climate adaptation technology.

In the wake of COVID-19, experts are warning that compounding threats should be met with compounded resources. The G-20 has now announced the “Matera Declaration,” calling for more action on food insecurity. The U.S. has also pledged $40 million to combat hunger in Madagascar. Lola Castro, WFP’s regional director in southern Africa, says that assisting Madagascar and other climate-struck nations should be a priority for global leadership. “These people contributed zero to climate change,” Castro said, “but they get the brunt of climate change. It’s a moral imperative to support them.”

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