Madagascar: Millions face starvation in the parched land facing the first climate change famine

ITV News Senior International Correspondent John Irvine sees firsthand the impact of the climate crisis in Madagascar

If the United Nations is right then our assignment to southern Madagascar’s drought zone was something of a guilt trip.

The UN claims this area is facing the world’s first climate change famine. If that’s accurate then we, as westerners, are more to blame for the crisis than the people who call this home.

After all, their contribution to the build up of greenhouse gases has been next to nothing.  And yet they are the ones struggling to survive after more than three years of drought that may well have been caused by the burning of fossil fuels elsewhere.

Getting anywhere in this region is difficult. The main road, the grandly named Route National 13, is so badly cratered after decades of neglect that we managed to average just 10mph.

Its dire state is a reminder that the Malagasy government has been ignoring the south, allowing it to languish.

All the crops have failed and villagers have been reduced to eating cactus flowers. Credit: ITV News

The parched landscape is a shock.  What should be green is brown, ochre or tan.  All the crops have failed.  Villagers have been reduced to eating cactus flowers, which help with the hunger pangs, but have no nutritional value.In Manofoty village the people are waiting outside for help they know is on the way because it has reached other communities.

Getting water involves a 20 mile round trip using oxen and carts.

Children play in a mud hole in what was once a river

Many of the children have distended tummies and stick-thin arms, the tell tale signs of severe malnutrition.

The World Food Programme and UNICEF have the means to help. Donations have been good, but the problem is getting to the communities that need food supplies.

Aid groups know that people beyond their reach have starved to death.  The latest known fatalities are in an inaccessible mountain village where 50 people have died.

This is the poorest corner of one of the poorest countries in the world. The margin for life is narrow at the best of times, but in these worst of times, it has vanished. People can’t live off the land for the time being.

People wait for help in Manofoty village. Credit: ITV News

In addition to the drought, the causes of their plight include a skyrocketing population and rampant deforestation.

When Madagascar gained its independence from France in 1960 the population was 5 million. Today, it’s around 28 million.

UNICEF's Jean François Basse on the dire situation in southern Madagascar

Eighty-five per cent of people don’t have electricity so burn charcoal to cook.

What’s happening in Madagascar’s south is loss of habitat for humans caused by humans.

If rain doesn’t fall soon, a way of life may be finished.