“We must act now”: UN Head in Madagascar warns of possible humanitarian crisis worsened by climate change
19 August 2021
2030 Agenda and the SDGs
In the southern region of Madagascar, hundreds of thousands of people are suffering from one of the worst droughts in the region in 40 years. In the town of Amboasary Atsimo, for example, about 75 per cent of the population is facing severe hunger and 14,000 people are on the brink of famine. UN Resident Coordinator Issa Sanogo recently visited the region, where the population is facing a severe humanitarian crisis.
You, along with local authorities and the Swiss Ambassador, recently visited southern Madagascar. What can you tell us about the situation on the ground?
We started in Betroka, an area known for its insecurity because of the "Dahalo," who are cattle rustlers [or raiders]. Betroka is also confronted with drought. It has been affected by the lack (less than 50 per cent) of rainfall. In addition to the already existing insecurity, we now have food insecurity due to the drought. Moving further south to Amboasary and Ambovombe, two areas located in arid lands, we encountered populations facing crop failures. Almost three million people are suffering the consequences of two consecutive extreme droughts. The population is facing the real consequences of climate change. They have done nothing to deserve this. But I have seen that they are ready to take up the challenge, with our immediate and medium-term support to get them back on their feet.
Certain groups of people are left behind. What can you tell us about their situation?
When we stopped in the village of Marovato, located only eight kilometers from Ambovombe, we could see that these people have not been targeted by any intervention, as they are considered part of the urban population and therefore do not meet the criteria for targeting. These people have been significantly affected by the sandstorms, all their croplands are silted up, and they cannot produce anything. They recognize the importance of protecting the environment. I was struck by the fact that there were so many women, but especially children. Most areas in the South are already in a nutritional emergency, so it is inevitable that these women and children will be even more affected if we do nothing.
What about the interventions the UN is supporting to alleviate the emergency?
I visited many interventions, including food distribution, nutrition interventions, WASH activities, antenatal care services, reproductive health, and even agricultural projects.
The more our interventions were integrated into the humanitarian package, the more significant the impact was. For example, we stopped in a village of Behara. It's a place where most people are classified as IPC 5. That means they are close to a famine situation. And there, it was important to notice that while WFP was providing food rations to families, UNICEF and WFP were at the same time giving nutritional packages to treat moderate and severe acute malnutrition to children under five. The same communities also benefited from reproductive health services, prenatal and obstetric consultations provided by UNFPA. The communities could benefit even more from integrated services, such as health care services [and] livelihood interventions [which WHO and FAO are exploring]. If we provide integrated humanitarian packages that can also extend to resilience activities, the impact will be more significant.
According to the Head of the World Food Programme, David Beasley, this was the first event in modern history caused solely by global warming. Do you agree, and what can you say about the role of climate change here?
I'm tempted to echo David Beasley’s words. As I said, I have seen the real impact of climate change. I met a community classified as IPC 5, among the communities that suffer daily the disastrous consequences of a crisis they did not create. These communities are in debt all the time. Every time they receive cash transfers, they have to pay back their debts before they can even think of catering to themselves. We need to create a safety net to help these people trapped in a vicious cycle of debt.
Moving further South towards the sea, we visited people who have benefited from a sisal plantation thanks to a UNDP resilience intervention. When we arrived, we were greeted with such enthusiasm that it gave me hope, and it was evident that of the slightly larger than four hectares that was planted with sisal, they wanted more. Why did they want more? Because sisal helped to fix the dunes. To stop the progression of the dunes, it protected the farmland from sand invasion, which meant that they would get more farmland to grow their usual crops. This was the hope that the people expressed as they cheered our arrival.
Since the beginning of 2021, donors have generously provided more than US$40 million for the Flash Appeal, enabling 800,000 people to receive life-saving assistance. [But] the appeal was only 53 per cent funded as of the end of May. The international community is being called upon to step up its financial support to save lives and alleviate suffering in the Grand Sud. Can you explain why this is urgent?
Donors were generous. Only the drought has continued beyond what we expected, [and] the funds received are insufficient to cover current and future needs.
We must act now. Annual crops are a problem that will probably become a new crisis in the next agricultural season. Environmental, humanitarian and development challenges are interrelated. We need to quickly provide humanitarian assistance and continue our development efforts to impact the lives of communities. Resilience is the solution There is a dire need though, to implement long-term solution lead by the Government, to accompany the humanitarian responses. The hunger season is coming. With the risk of seeing people's living conditions deteriorate further. We are in danger of seeing these people who have endured the prolonged drought enter the lean season without the means to eat, without money to pay for health services, to send their children to school, to get clean water, and even to get seeds to plant for the next agricultural season. We must act now with humanitarian and development responses so we can save lives and hope for a better future.
Blog by Issa Sanogo, Resident Coordinator in Madagascar, with editorial support by Paul Vandecarr and Celine Adotevi, Development Coordination Office. For more information about the United Nations' work in Madagascar, please visit: Madagascar.UN.org. To learn more about the results of our work in this area and beyond, please visit the UNSDG Chair Report on DCO.