Madagascar is at the edge of famine due to climate change. Children are most at risk

Sky's Alex Crawford reports from Madagascar's Grand Sud as world leaders gather in Glasgow to discuss COP26. There, babies are dying of hunger while their mothers beg for help.

Madagascar is at the edge of famine due to climate change. Children are most at risk

Madagascar is on the frontline, where there are no rockets being fired or mortars being launched nor bombs being dropped. However, its people are trapped in a war zone where the consequences are equally devastating.

Sky News managed to enter the country, despite being closed off by coronavirus restrictions. This allowed them to witness the devastating effects of prolonged drought.

We witnessed babies slowly die from hunger as their mothers, who were weak from starvation, begged for help.

As the village elders begged for help, we listened to their pleas as the toddlers of the community were forced to eat cactus flowers. We walked along dry riverbeds for miles and miles. Villagers were digging holes to get water.

We were confronted with children and adults, young and old, who were willing to do anything to help us survive the next day.

People on this beautiful Indian Ocean island are suffering from starvation and torture, primarily due to climate change, which isn't their fault, according the United Nations.

According to the UN, the fourth-largest island in the world is at risk of starvation. It is also likely that it will be remembered as the first affected by unusual and extreme weather conditions. This was not a country at war, in conflict, but in peacetime with almost zero carbon emissions.

Famine is a complex legal term that has many contested international parameters. The Malagasy are in the minority and live below the poverty line, earning less than two dollars per day. It is unclear whether Madagascar's famine is legalized.

Many will be hungry tonight. Many will not know where their next meal will come from when they awake. Many parents won't be able feed all their children, and some may not be able provide for all of them.

The environmental problems facing Madagascar are immense and growing.

The island has been suffering from the effects of an extended drought that lasted for forty years. It also experiences multiple extreme weather conditions, including vicious winds, dust storms and cyclones. These storms are known as tiomenas and have caused the destruction of villages and forced many people to flee.

Unpredictable and unusual weather have caused severe hardship for most of the population, with more than a million people deemed to be in "high acute hunger food insecurity" by aid agencies.

This country is among the most bio-diverse countries in the world and is currently suffering from an Oxfam "hunger pandemic".

We visited Monja Jaona Hospital in Ambovombe which is the main medical centre of the Androy Region, south Madagascar.

We met Malalaza, a tiny baby who was so sick from hunger and illness that she couldn't even cry.

The nurse presses her stomach. All she can manage is a few mumbles of protest as the nurse pushes. She is one year and two months old, which is when healthy babies will start walking and trying their first words.

Malalaza's weight has dropped in the past few weeks, and she can't hold her head high. She cannot sit up. She cannot hold a spoon to her mouth. It's becoming difficult for her to do anything. She's been suffering from poor nutrition and lack of food, and has contracted tuberculosis.

Rivo Razafison from UNICEF, chief nutritionist, tells us that "the prognosis is for her extremely serious."

He believes that many of the children he visits are sick because they are hungry, which makes them vulnerable to illness and weakening. Madagascar's drought has brought new levels of suffering to its poor.

This has made it difficult to find water, which has had a devastating effect. It has led to crop failure, worse sanitation, more diseases, higher levels of poverty, and increased fear about where and how to get enough food.

When Madagascar was already suffering from severe drought, the global coronavirus pandemic struck. The country was forced to shut down, and the main source of hard currency for the island, which helped provide income and jobs, had to be closed down.

Although the country will gradually open its doors to outsiders starting in November, flights transporting those tourists are still not possible.

Even so, more than one million people may continue to suffer from the effects of climate change. Malalaza could be one of the country’s victims.

Malalaza's mother Hopuso also has five children whom she cares for. She must walk at least 10 km per day to fetch water and she makes charcoal and wood chips to earn money.

Rivo Razafison says that the child's state may have been caused by her hard life and all the physical labor she has to do.

Malalaza is only a fraction of her age, and she weighs in at less than five kilograms.

Because she is so small, neither doctors nor patients can believe it, we spend a good ten minute checking her medical records. Malalaza's tiny frame is so small that no one can believe she will live much longer, despite all the best efforts of health professionals.

UNICEF runs a health center across the street from the hospital. It is flooded with mothers and babies who are able to survive because UNICEF provides food and medical assistance. An anxious crowd waits outside the tent to weigh their babies. It is heart-stopping to see the hanging scale dial indicate whether the baby has gained, lost or remained the same.

Hunger is a slow and painful death. Unfortunately, many people in Madagascar are experiencing this right now.

Soja Franco, ten months old, lost weight last week but it's worth celebrating as her scales are now in her favor this week. Her arms are still large. Although a small weight gain is a good thing, it does not mean that these children are safe.

Rivo Razafison, a Malagasy who worked in the region's southern region for almost two decades, is Rivo Razafison.

He says, "In all my time here, the worst year of drought was last year."

According to forecasts, "And this year will be even worse."

Malagasy are facing multiple problems. Even if the drought ends, the Malagasy will still have to deal with the severe consequences of prolonged dry periods.

Many of the people we spoke with had lost their ability to grow food and now they are turning to charcoal making to sell. Many people rely on charcoal as fuel for cooking because only 15% of the country has electricity.

Many of those we spoke with admitted that they knew this would increase environmental problems. "But we have to choose", was the constant refrain.

Since the 1950s, 40% of the island's forests have disappeared.

This is an alarming statistic for a country that is known for its beauty and unique ecosystem. It also means that most of the country's mammals and plants are not found anywhere else on the planet.

The government is making efforts to stop the decline. To stop the soil erosion, there are many new tree plantations. Despite mounting odds against it, it all seems very small.

It's true that climate change is not the only factor to blame, but it is an important and almost certain main factor.

Aid agencies have complained about decades of poor governance, and there has been political instability since 1960 when the country was independent from France.

The most recent presidential election was peacefully held with Andry Rajoelina being elected. He had been first brought to power by a coup in 2009.

Recently, the government detained scores of individuals accused of trying to assassinate President Rajoelina. These included former soldiers and military personnel. This was not indicative of widespread political instability, but the president's office said it was the work of someone mentally ill.

However, the pandemic was devastating for the island.

The World Bank had predicted a 5.2% GDP growth before COVID. It has declined by 4.2%, while the population is increasing by almost 3% every year. Nearly everyone we spoke with had large families. One father had 16 children.

One mother said, "Every child is an offering from God."

It's a blessing, but it also means another person to feed when there isn't enough food. The cost of rice has risen and in some places, the harvest of staple cassava has fallen by almost 90%.

Madagascar's contributions to the world's natural wealth are immense and cannot be underestimated. For example, there are over 100 species of lemurs that live only in Madagascar. They are the most endangered mammals in the world.

Few Malagasy will pay attention to what's happening in Glasgow over the next fortnight. It is unlikely that they will be able, or even believe that what happens will have any impact on their lives. While the population isn't responsible for the climate change caused by carbon emissions, those who live here are feeling its devastating effects.

Children like Malalaza have to pay a high price for the actions taken by those from richer nations.

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