Madagascar: ‘Catastrophic’ drought is claiming lives – global action urgently required

© Pierrot Men for Amnesty

One of Madagascar’s worst droughts in history is devastating a population where 91% live below the poverty line

Reports and testimonies from parents of children dying from hunger

‘They suffered from hunger…and they died. We hardly eat anything’ – woman who has lost two children 

‘Amnesty calls on the international community to ramp up relief efforts and take bold action to tackle the climate crisis ahead of COP26’ – Agnès Callamard

World leaders must urgently respond to a devastating drought in Sothern Madagascar that has brought one million people to the brink of famine, Amnesty International said in a new report today.

The drought – which began in November 2020 – is one of the worst Madagascar has ever experienced.

In its 63-page report – “It will be too late to help us once we are dead” – Amnesty documents the drought’s impact on people’s human rights, where 91% of the population live below the poverty line. People’s livelihoods are being crushed, and Amnesty has interviewed communities that report deaths due to hunger.

Amnesty 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.

Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International, said:

“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.

“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.”

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.

Agnès Callamard added:

“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 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.

The scale of the drought

The United Nations World Food Programme and Food and Agriculture Organisation (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. It is the first time it has been recorded since the IPC methodology was introduced in Madagascar in 2016.

According to the FAO, 95% of people facing acute food insecurity in southern Madagascar rely on crop farming, livestock and fishing. However 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 impacting people’s livelihoods.

Reports of death from starvation

While there are no official statistics on deaths from the drought, which began in November last year, Amnesty 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 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.

COP26

Ahead of the COP26 climate conference, Amnesty 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 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.