文章 Articles

Madagascar feels the heat

Deforestation, drought and political instability have ravaged a nation rich in wildlife but poor in infrastructure. And, reports David Smith, climate change is blamed for playing havoc with harvests and the seasons.

Article image

Remanonjona Feroce founded the village of Anjamahavelo – meaning At the Lucky Baobab – in Madagascar a generation ago. With memories of a flood still fresh, he chose a spot far from the nearest river. He cleared the wild forest and sacrificed a sheep in the hope that it would make the owls, lemurs and snakes go away.

“Animals can’t live together with little children and young girls,” explained Feroce, an 85-year-old great-grandfather. “They don’t want snakes to be here because they have bad spirits. They strangle children by curling around the neck. Owls are bad birds. If one hoots, it means somebody will die.”

The animals did go away, but so did the luck of Anjamahavelo, a cluster of wooden houses. Southern Madagascar has had three years of crop failure in five years, resulting in chronic hunger for tens of thousands of families and soaring rates of malnutrition, stunted growth and death among children.

Three forces are combining with deadly effect on the Indian Ocean island, which is incalculably rich in wildlife but impoverished in basic infrastructure. Climate change is widely blamed for playing havoc with the seasons and destroying agricultural harvests. This is exacerbated by local deforestation, which has altered the micro-climate and reduced rainfall.

Finally, a bloody political coup earlier this year paralysed essential services and led to the crippling suspension of several foreign aid programmes. The United Nations says that nearly half of households in the south have severe food shortages.

To feed her five children in Anjamahavelo, Tinalisy – her only name – works as a prostitute at the end of each month, when the local men, mostly in the police, have been paid. The unmarried 27-year-old has slept with men for sex since she was 17. “If the men don’t want to marry, that is not really a problem. We have to survive.”

Tinalisy says her 20-month-old daughter, Vany Lentine, suffers a fever each evening. “We eat once or twice a day – always cassava. I’m worried but what I can do? There is no money. People here are unhappy because their children do not eat. There is nothing to be happy about.”

Other villagers say that the fierce competition for dwindling resources has led to lawlessness and violence. Valiotaky, 56, the village chief, supplies an explanation for the drought. “When we plant trees, we don’t have rain and nothing grows,” he said. “I think God is angry. Young people don’t respect the traditions.”

Perversely, people in the south are so starved of water that they crave the increasingly fierce cyclones that pound the north three times a year. Two separate dry seasons have progressively expanded until they meet to form one long hot season, hitting crops such as maize, manioc and sweet potato.

Tovoheryzo Raobijaona, director of a food- insecurity early warning system in nearby Ambovombe, said: “Before, people spoke about the cycle of drought every 10 years. Now it’s every five years, or every three years. After a bad year like 2009, people need two to three years to get back to standard.”

Unicef, the UN’s children’s agency, said that in the past six months 8,632 children had been treated for severe acute malnutrition in three southern regions – more than double the expected number. The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) warns that 150,000 children could be affected this year.

There are reports of people resorting to eating lemurs and turtles, even though these are culturally taboo. They have also resumed cutting down trees for firewood or to make space for rice fields, inadvertently adding to the drought problem by reducing the capacity of forests to capture water that will evaporate into clouds and become rain.

The added impact of global climate change is difficult to quantify. The World Bank says that only one thing is certain: in the past half century, Madagascar has seen a 10% increase in temperature and 10% decrease in rainfall. Experts say it is not a question of whether this trend will continue, but by how much.

Silvia Caruso, deputy country director of the WFP, said: “Environmental degradation and climate change are building on each other. The results are dramatic in Madagascar.”

This has been compounded by political instability. In March, Andry Rajoelina, a city mayor, businessman and former disc jockey, seized power from president Marc Ravalomanana after clashes that left dozens dead. The fallout has been political deadlock, economic downturn, job losses, price inflation, collapsing public services, a flight of investors and international sanctions on a country that relies on foreign aid for half its budget.

Caruso added: “The coup has paralysed services that we need to work with in the provinces. It has made the response to drought more complex. We had to fill the gaps at regional level.”

Bruno Maes, Unicef's representative for Madagascar, described the coup as “a disaster for children”, adding: “Madagascar was on the road to take-off. They understood it was time to make reforms in health and education, so that all children can have access. Now all this is frozen. Nothing is moving.”

Unicef has provided medicine and training to all regional health clinics for acute malnutrition cases, supported food distribution and worked to improve sanitation. The WFP has begun programmes to provide school meals to 215,000 children, help 8,000 households mitigate against environmental change and supply supplementary feeding to around 70,000 children under two and pregnant and lactating women.

Maes said Unicef was also negotiating with the World Bank to directly administer money earmarked for teachers’ salaries. “Children's rights should be addressed in any situation – whatever the crisis.”
 



Case study: “Lack of food is eating us up”


Zanasoa Relais Anjado, 38, has 11 children. Her husband, a former plantation worker, is unemployed. They live in Anjado village in southern Madagascar.

“Lack of food is eating us up every day. We often go through very hard moments – in the most difficult we ate only tamarinds [fruit] mixed with ashes. We were hungry and tired and had to beg for something to eat. We were like famine victims … I have 11 children and I don’t know how to feed them. Sometimes we have one meal a day, sometimes two. One of my children was sick. He managed to survive and recover, but I know people in the community who are still very weak. The river is five kilometres from here and we walk for hours to get there … With rainwater we would cook food and diversify agriculture. We’d plant cabbages, green leaves, corn and beans. What we planted so far dried and failed … It will be really difficult and we will suffer. That is why I am asking the government for help, directly and immediately. Without it, we risk dying here. I don’t care about the political situation in the country. The only thing that concerns me is that I’m eating.”


www.guardian.co.uk/

Copyright Guardian News and Media Limited 2009

Homepage image from wildmadagascar.org

Now more than ever…

chinadialogue is at the heart of the battle for truth on climate change and its challenges at this critical time.

Our readers are valued by us and now, for the first time, we are asking for your support to help maintain the rigorous, honest reporting and analysis on climate change that you value in a 'post-truth' era.

Support chinadialogue

发表评论 Post a comment

评论通过管理员审核后翻译成中文或英文。 最大字符 1200。

Comments are translated into either Chinese or English after being moderated. Maximum characters 1200.

评论 comments

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

为别人着想

这让我想起了50年前的中国。那时的中国农村,深陷贫穷和大量的人口负担,更有前苏联的欠债压力,人民生活在水深火热之中。很多人甚至饿死。幸运的是,我们从那样的困境中成功走了出来。

马达加斯加也应当采用计划生育政策。而他们本可以靠自己避免的问题,却转向他人寻求帮助,这并非合乎道义。请他们尊重别人的同情心,因为那并不是无限施予的。

Do it for others

This remaids me of situations in China fifty years ago. Poverty and large population numbers combining with Soviet Russia's repayment demand, almost make china rural area a hell in the world. Lots of people starved to death. Luckily, we made it through that.

Birth control must be implement throughout Madagascar. Otherwise it is kind of immoral for them to just ask for help because of something that they actually could have avoided to happen. Please respect people's sympathy, because it is not endless.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

恐惧蔓延

看完这篇文章,我内心无比恐惧,我不敢去思考这是真的还是假的,我也不打算再思考下去。我看中外对话已近快两年左右的时间了,感觉收获很大。不过这篇文章,我感觉很不科学。个案不能代表全部,这种个案的讲述方法让我怀疑文章所传达的内容是否是真的。

I’m afraid it will spread

After reading this article, I can’t help but feel afraid. I don’t dare to think about whether this is true or not, and I don’t plan on thinking about it anymore. I have been reading chinadialogue for about two years now, and I feel like I have benefited greatly from it. But I don’t think this article is very scientific. One case cannot represent the whole situation, and the narration of this case makes me wonder if the entire content of this article is real or not.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

环境破坏的受害者

他们只是人类破坏环境的最明显的受害者,如果不尽快重建生态系统,这样的惨剧只会日益扩散

Victims of Environmental Destruction

They are only the most obvious victims of the environmental destruction caused by humans. If the ecological system is not restored quickly, this tragedy will only become more widespread with time.