LONDON - The global climate crisis has intensified a devastating drought in southern Madagascar, where catastrophic hunger has brought 1 million people to the brink of famine, Amnesty International said in a new report today. Madagascar is experiencing one of its worst droughts in history - a stark reminder that climate change is already causing great suffering and claiming lives.
In its report, “It will be too late to help us once we are dead”, Amnesty documents the drought’s impact on the enjoyment of human rights for people in Madagascar’s “Deep South” region, where 91% of the population lives below the poverty line. The organization is urging the international community to take immediate action to tackle the climate crisis and protect people in countries like Madagascar which are acutely vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
“Madagascar is on the frontline of the climate crisis. For one million people, it means a drought of catastrophic proportion, and violations of their rights to life, health, food and water. It could mean dying of starvation. This is happening now. Current climate change projections indicate that droughts are expected to become more severe, disproportionately affecting people in developing countries. Ahead of the UN climate negotiations at COP26, this is a wake-up call for world leaders to stop dragging their feet on the climate crisis,” said Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International.
“The international community must immediately provide the people in Madagascar affected by the drought with increased humanitarian relief and additional funding for the losses and damages suffered. Going forward, countries that have contributed the most to climate change and those with the most available resources must also provide additional financial and technical support to help people in Madagascar to better adapt to the impacts of climate change, such as increasingly severe and prolonged droughts.”
Amnesty is also calling for all world leaders to take bold and concrete action to collectively cut carbon emissions by at least 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, and to reach zero before or by 2050, in line with scientific evidence.
Madagascar is among the countries most vulnerable to climate change. Scientific evidence shows that global climate change has likely contributed to higher temperatures and increasingly erratic rainfall in the country’s semi-arid Deep South, which has seen below average rainfall for five years in a row. The United Nations has said Madagascar is on the brink of experiencing the world’s first climate change famine.
The scale of the drought
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in May that around 1.14 million people were facing high levels of acute food insecurity in the south, and that nearly 14,000 were in a state of ‘catastrophe’ – the highest type of food insecurity under the five-step scale of the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC). It is the first time it has been recorded since the IPC methodology was introduced in Madagascar in 2016.
According to the FAO, 95 percent of people facing acute food insecurity in southern Madagascar rely on crop farming, livestock and fishing. But below-average rainy seasons, over the past few years, have led to a severe reduction in staple food production, including rice and cassava, as well as declined livestock herd size and body conditions. The drought has also caused livestock deaths, further compounding cases of the disappearance of people’s livelihoods.
While there are no official statistics on deaths from the drought, which began in November 2020, Amnesty International interviewed several people from the Deep South who reported deaths in their communities due to hunger.
In March, Votsora, a farmer in his 50s, told Amnesty International that 10 people had died a month earlier in his village, and that five people from the same household had died of hunger in one day.
One woman also interviewed in March said she had lost two children to hunger. “They suffered from hunger…and they died. We hardly eat anything,” she said.
Another man said he lost two infant children: “One was one year and two months old, and the other was eight months old. They died a year ago...Because we were not eating anything.”
Human rights impacts
The drought poses an imminent threat to the right to life, as well as other rights, such as to health, water, sanitation and food of people in southern Madagascar.
As the crisis turns people’s lives upside down, many have had no option but to migrate to other areas in search of food.
Children are being robbed of their futures, as hunger forces many to drop out of school to seek work to support their families. Parents are also reluctant to send their children to school on an empty stomach.
The crisis is also placing a disproportionate burden on women and female-headed households, which often rely on agriculture for a living.
“We can no longer accept that the poorest, most marginalized groups in society are the ones paying the highest price for the actions and the failures of the world’s biggest emitters of carbon dioxide,” said Agnès Callamard.
“What’s worse is that droughts are expected to become increasingly severe in this part of Madagascar, which can only mean a continuing erosion of human rights protections. The international community must step up and ensure everyone can enjoy their right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, essential for the enjoyment of many other rights.”
Ahead of the COP26 climate conference, Amnesty International is calling on all countries to:
Commit to ambitious and human rights-consistent emission reduction targets to keep us under a global 1.5°C global temperature rise.
Commit to rapidly phasing out fossil fuels rather than relying on offsetting measures that delay climate action and may negatively impact on human rights.
Put in place a global mechanism to support people whose rights have been affected, with wealthy governments paying for the costs through new and additional funding not subject to repayments.
Guarantee the rights to information and participation in climate-related decision-making for affected people at all levels.
In addition, Amnesty International is calling on wealthier countries to substantially increase their financial contributions for human rights-consistent emission reduction and climate adaptation measures in less wealthy countries.
The south of Madagascar has experienced four consecutive droughts, which have wiped out harvests and hampered people’s access to food. The latest drought started in November 2020 and carried on to January 2021. The lean season, the period between planting and harvesting, arrived early this year, compounding the ongoing hunger faced by people in the south. The drought had a huge impact on the affected communities, exposing people to hunger, malnutrition and death.
According to the WFP’s latest Food Security and Nutrition Snapshot covering the April to September 2021 period, 1.14 million people from the Deep South of Madagascar were facing high levels of acute food insecurity.