Home WORLD AFRICA Madagascar, victim of climate change or bad political choices?

Madagascar, victim of climate change or bad political choices?

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The south of Madagascar is an extremely dry region, explains Xavier Poncin, deputy director of Action against Hunger (ACF) for the Madagascar region.

The episodes of drought that lead to situations of food insecurity, this is something that has existed since the documentation of the area existshe notes. kéréas they are called in the national dialect, are already documented a hundred years ago.”,”text”:”The first episodes of kéré, as they are called in the national dialect, are already documented a hundred years ago. a hundred years.”}}”>The first episodes of kéréas they are called in the national dialect, are already documented a hundred years ago.

However, he notes, these episodes are becoming more and more frequent. They no longer occur every 15 to 20 years, as in the past, but rather every 5 years.

However, 90% of the inhabitants of the Great South survive thanks to agriculture. Without rain, plants wither, animals die and people have nothing to eat.

Last year, the country found itself on the list of global hunger hotspots – drawn up by the World Food Program – as 1.14 million of its inhabitants suffered from severe food insecurity and 14,000 from between them of starvation conditions.

In addition to the drought, some areas were hit by sandstorms, while others endured locust swarms.

A girl holds a baby in front of a damaged house.

Cyclone Batsirai swept through Madagascar in February, causing around ten deaths and extensive damage.

Photo: Reuters/ALKIS KONSTANTINIDIS

The southeast of the island also suffered considerable damage following the passage of six storms and cyclones during the first months of the year 2022.

Although the situation has improved somewhat in recent months, in particular thanks to humanitarian aid, 122,000 people are still in crisis.

There are no more pockets of population threatened with famine, but it remains an emergency level. »

A quote from Xavier Poncin, Deputy Director of Action Against Hunger for the Madagascar region

In the coming months, around 400,000 people in the region could see their situation deteriorate due to the lack of rain, according to the analysis of the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC).

Residents of the districts of Bekily, Atsimo-Andrefana and Amboasary-Atsimo could find themselves in phase 4, that is to say they would suffer from very high acute malnutrition.

Drought and underdevelopment

Visiting the region in July 2021, the head of the World Food Program (WFP), David Beasley, said that the famine in the Great South of Madagascar, which livesyears”,”text”:”his worst drought in over 40 years”}}”>its worst drought in over 40 yearswas the first caused by human-induced climate change rather than conflict.

A way to challenge the leaders of Western countries to increase their aid for the island, which is suffering the consequences of climate change while it has not contributed.

The connection between the two, however, is not so obvious. the World Weather Attribution (WWA), a global grouping of experts from various research institutes, estimated that global warming played only a minimal role in the exceptional drought and famine that have hit Madagascar in recent years.

According to these scientists, natural climate variability and poverty are the main factors. It is difficult for local communities to cope with any prolonged drought, especially when subsistence agriculture and pastoralism depend exclusively on rainnotes the study of W.W.A..

A malnourished child and his mother, from behind.

Children suffering from malnutrition are treated at the Doctors Without Borders mobile clinic in the village of Befeno, in the commune of Marovato, on September 2, 2021.

Photo: Getty Images / RIJASOLO

Some 90% of Malagasy people live on less than $2 a day. The maternal mortality rate is among the highest in the world. Half of children under 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition and access to drinking water is one of the worst in Africa.

Poverty levels are even higher in the south, a region that also suffers from geographic isolation from the rest of the country, lack of road infrastructure and banditry.

These are the factors that put these regions on the edge. They are resistant when the environmental conditions are good, but very vulnerable to the slightest shock and in particular to insufficient rainfall. »

A quote from Xavier Poncin, Deputy Director of Action Against Hunger for the Madagascar region

foreign interference

Extreme poverty is to blame, but also misguided foreign intervention, notes geographer Stian Rice, visiting research assistant at the University of Maryland.

The Deep South is definitely a tough place to farmnotes Mr. Rice. It is exceptionally dry and the dry spells are getting longer and more frequent.

That said, for centuries, the population knew how to manage, in particular thanks to a variety of cactus which grew there in abundance. In addition to being used for the construction of fences around the hamlets, they were used to feed and quench the thirst of the animals and the villagers during periods of drought or between two harvests.

Cacti in an arid plain.

Malagasy people eat the fruit of the cactus (raketa in Malagasy) during periods of scarcity.

Photo: Getty Images / RIJASOLO

In the 1920s, however, the French colonizers introduced an insect, the cochineal, which ravaged the cacti. Their goal was to reclaim the land occupied by the cacti for farming, says Rice. But following the near disappearance of the plant, the first major famine settled in the region. The food system never recovered.

Until they removed the plant, there was really no food insecurity in the Southargues Mr. Rice.

Only 5% of Madagascar’s land is suitable for agriculture. However, the development strategies proposed by major international institutions such as the World Bank promote large-scale export-oriented agriculture. Cash crops, such as vanilla, cloves or castor oil, are encouraged, even if this does not meet local needs and the profits go to large companies established abroad.

Rather than investing in a local food system, international donors seek that part of the 70% of Malagasy who still live from agriculture become salaried workers for large farmers, observes the researcher. This should lead to a rural exodus, industrialization and economic take-off. These are the same prescriptions that the World Trade Organization and the World Bank made in the 1980snotes Mr. Rice.

According to him, before turning to cash crops, Madagascar should aim for food self-sufficiency.

Madagascar’s limited arable land should be reserved for food crops consumed domestically, not for exports that add flavor to Western foods or lucrative concessions to foreign companies. »

A quote from Stian Rice, geographer, visiting research assistant at the University of Maryland

Building Resilience

Humanitarian organizations are trying to support Malagasy people to free themselves from their dependence on foreign aid. Beyond an emergency response during disasters, their objective is to allow the inhabitants of the Great South to no longer suffer from food insecurity in the future, explains Xavier Poncin, of Action against Hunger.

People move in a cart pulled by a buffalo on a sandy road.

National Route 13, in the south of Madagascar, is a good illustration of the poor state of the roads in the Great South of Madagascar, a major obstacle to the development of the region.

Photo: Getty Images / RIJASOLO

This involves the repair of roads as well as the construction of dams and irrigation canals. Humanitarian organizations also provide seeds or agricultural tools to replace those that farmers had to sell to buy food during the crisis.

At the same time, other programs focus on drilling new water points and monitoring groundwater.

In the longer term, the answer lies in a transition towards more resilient agriculture in the face of climate change.

In the southern regions, 90% of the population depends on agriculture or livestock for its survival, notes Xavier Poncin. The whole question is to make these economic activities less dependent on the climate.

Without denying the impact of global warming, we must go beyond the discourse that presents Madagascar as a victim of climate change, emphasizes Stian Rice.

To emphasize that alone is to downplay a long-term political, social and foreign policy failure. »

A quote from Stian Rice, geographer, visiting research assistant at the University of Maryland.

In 2020-2021, Canada provided $21.06 million to fund various programs in Madagascar.

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