Madagascar's Drought Could Become Routine, Worse, Warn Climate Experts

Issa Sanogo, UN Resident Coordinator in Madagascar, meets a young girl who received food aid (file photo).

The ongoing drought in southern parts of Madagascar could become more frequent, given the changing climate that has affected Africa's largest island nation.

This week, experts poring over the deadly drought in Madagascar, said there is evidence this is directly linked to climate change and implied that more of extreme weather could be felt in the region.

The revelations from climate advocacy group 350.Org came as the UN warned that at least half a million children under the age of five are malnourished, 110,000 of whom are in severe condition in drought-affected southern Madagascar.

Landry Ninteretse, the Africa director for 350.0rg warned that Madagascar could experience repeated extreme weather conditions, such as droughts, cyclone or flooding; as its weather system is destroyed by changing climate from global warming.

"This Madagascar famine is the first in modern history to be caused solely by climate change alone. It's unlikely to be the last," Mr Ninteretse told Time magazine.

Long identified as vulnerable for having its unique wildlife, Madagascar has now come under the toll of climate change, according to a report by USAid, published in July.

For the beginning, the current drought has already killed most of the food crops and USAid said the actual long-term toll of the damage may be assessed only after the drought.

"Increased carbondioxide levels in the atmosphere are leading to rising sea temperatures and ocean acidity levels, which threaten coral ecosystems and other marine habitats of high economic and ecological value," USAid says.

"Finally, sea level rise around Madagascar, which has the longest coastline of any country in Africa, will subject communities and habitats to increased damage from cyclonic and flooding events and may force many people permanently from their homes."

In the immediate term, UN officials say the rush is now to alleviate malnutrition among children as it could affect an entire generation.

Suffering children

Besides starving, children who receive insufficient nutrients may also suffer long-term problems including retardation, being susceptible to illness or being underweight, according to the Unicef. Such children may be slow learners at school too, delaying their progression through schooling years.

The drought has hit for the last four months, causing a heavy toll on food shortage to a country that is also battling the Covid-19 pandemic.

As at Thursday, Madagascar with a population of 26.9 million had recorded 42,615 Covid-19 positive cases, 41,091 recoveries and 942 deaths.

The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), however, says signs were on the wall from as early as 2014 when the country started receiving limited rainfall. Poverty has also meant that most people rely on natural wood for fuel and till their gardens for rain-fed agriculture.

But drought conditions have reduced crop production leading to cumulative low yields since 2011, FAO says in its bulletin for July. This drought is the worst since 1981.

"What is currently happening in southern Madagascar is heartbreaking. We cannot turn our backs on these children whose lives are at stake," Madagascar WFP's representative Moumini Ouedraogo said.

"There is an urgent need to invest in the prevention and treatment of malnutrition in children to prevent the situation from becoming even more critical," Michel Saint-Lot, Unicef's representative in Madagascar said in a statement.

"By providing families with access to safe water and treating malnourished children with therapeutic food, lives can be saved. But we have to act now."

Overall, at least 1.14 million are not guaranteed the next meal in southern Madagascar. Some areas were even listed as 'catastrophic', the highest level of food insecurity status. The worst-affected Ambovombe-Androy district, where global acute malnutrition rates have touched an alarming 27 percent is at risk of famine unless urgent steps are taken to prevent further deterioration.

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