Red sand is blowing everywhere in this formerly rich area of southern Madagascar, with precious few trees left to moderate the wind. It’s blowing into farms, communities, and roads, as well as into the eyes of youngsters waiting for food relief deliveries.
The area has become a dust bowl as a result of four years of drought, the worst in decades, and deforestation caused by people burning or cutting down trees to generate charcoal or open up ground for farming.
“There isn’t anything to be harvested. That’s why we’re hungry and don’t have anything to eat “Tarira, a mother of seven, was speaking from a distant World Food Programme (WFP) station in Anjeky Beanatara, where children are screened for malnutrition and given food.
More than a million people in southern Madagascar are in need of food assistance from the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP).
Tarira had taken her four-year-old son Avoraza, who has been having difficulty gaining weight, to collect sachets of Plumpy, a peanut-based treatment used to treat malnourished children.
“There was insufficient food for the seven of us. He didn’t think the Plumpy was enough for him “She said this while clutching Avoraza’s frail arm.
Tarira and her family, like many others in the region, have been reduced to eating raketa, a sort of cactus that grows wild but has little nutritional value and causes stomach aches, she added.
Madagascar, the world’s fourth biggest island and home to one of the world’s most diversified ecosystems, boasts thousands of indigenous plant and animal species, including lemurs. However, in other areas, like as its far southern districts, the ground reality has shifted.
“We used to call Madagascar the green island,” Soja Lahimaro Tsimandilatse, governor of the southern Androy province, remarked.
According to local officials and relief organisations, the food crisis in the south has been building for years and has interconnected causes such as drought, deforestation, environmental destruction, poverty, COVID-19, and population expansion.
With a population of 30 million people, Madagascar has always experienced extreme weather, but scientists predict that as temperatures rise due to human-caused climate change, these events will become more often and severe.
Increased aridity has already been documented in Madagascar, according to the UN’s IPCC climate change body, and droughts are expected to worsen. The World Food Programme (WFP) said the island was in danger of experiencing “the world’s first climate change famine” at the height of the food crisis in the south.
According to a study by the worldwide research group World Weather Attribution, models predicted a minor movement toward greater droughts in southern Madagascar due to climate change, but natural variability was the primary reason of the second one-in-135-year dry event since 1992.
WFP operations in the worst-affected parts of southern Madagascar are overseen by Theodore Mbainaissem, who says once-regular weather patterns have shifted beyond recognition in recent years, and elders in the villages can no longer figure out the ideal time to plant or harvest.
Mbainaissem claimed that the worst of the food crisis had passed following months of assistance by the World Food Programme, other humanitarian organisations, and local officials. He claimed that severe malnutrition rates among children have reduced from around 30% a few months ago to around 5% presently.
“In the villages, youngsters may be seen running left and right. Previously, this was not the case “he stated
Communities and relief organisations are already working to move past the crisis and focus on long-term projects, such as a massive planting operation in the coastal town of Faux Cap to stabilise sand dunes.
The long-term repercussions of deforestation were a secondary concern for Felix Fitiavantsoa, 20, who was burning down a wooded area to start cultivating it.
His immediate need was to grow food to feed his young wife, and his biggest concern was whether it will ever rain enough for him to begin.
“I’m not sure what we’ll do if it doesn’t rain. We’ll make a prayer to God “he stated