Regional Director for East Africa, Action Against Hunger
All across Africa, communities are suffering from the lasting effects of the climate crisis and its continued impact on food security.
I’ll never forget the day Maliha in Madagascar told us: “We have been starving for so long. Ever since there has been no rain, the children have not eaten normally. I give them what I can find, like cactus leaves”
An estimated 1.3 million people in Madagascar’s Grand Sud region are facing extreme hunger and 28,000 are living in a state of famine.
Small-scale farmers make up 63% of Madagascar’s population. They are the hardest hit by the worst drought in 40 years in Grand Sud.
Vicious cycle of food scarcity
As a result of the drought, crops are not growing, so farmers have nothing to eat or sell. Without income from their crops, they cannot buy the limited, expensive food available at local markets and they have to forage for food like cactus leaves.
It is a vicious cycle for families already living on the edge; finding food to eat is a daily struggle. Between a sixth and a quarter of young children are now suffering from acute malnutrition, which can be deadly.
At Action Against Hunger, we see that the climate crisis is driving children to our malnutrition treatment clinics. So, as well as providing children with life-saving treatment for malnutrition, we are also providing farmers with training, equipment and seeds; and teaching them how to get rid of pests and be resilient to climate hazards.
The climate crisis is happening faster than predicted and some of the impacts are here to stay. Africa is being disproportionately hit. Temperatures are rising faster than in any other region.
Lasting impacts of the climate crisis
In August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its 6th report showing the climate crisis is happening faster than predicted and some of the impacts are here to stay. Africa is being disproportionately hit. Temperatures are rising faster than in any other region.
In 2020, Africa remained the continent most affected by humanitarian crises with people experiencing famine-like conditions in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Nigeria and Burkina Faso.
In Guchi Town, Ethiopia, cattle herders are bringing their children to our clinics because drought means the livestock lack milk so pastoralists have nothing to sell to earn a living and feed their children. In this part of Ethiopia, livestock used to be the main source of food and income. But now the dry seasons are getting longer, there is a delay in new grass growth, which is starving cattle. So people have less milk to sell and feed their children. The lack of rain is also driving people to give up cultivating the land.
Rise in malnutrition
The lack of a diverse, nutritious diet coupled with climate stressors often results in a spike in the cases of severe malnutrition in the dry season. Malnutrition is life threatening – it is responsible for nearly half of all young child deaths globally.
Medina is nine months pregnant and already has a one-year-old girl, Munira, who has been ill since she was born. Our health and nutrition staff treated Munira with medicine, milk and ready-to-use therapeutic food. When Munira was discharged, our staff continued to visit regularly.
Medina speaks about the impact the climate crisis and hunger has on her family. “When we have rain during the rainy season the cattle will eat a lot, they have a lot of grass to eat and we get milk out of it. But when there is no rain the cattle get hungry and they don’t have anything to eat, so in turn we won’t get milk and we go hungry.”
It worries me that we will see more and more children like Munira arriving in our clinics if we do not see rapid international action in response to this emergency.
The injustice feels all the more profound when I consider that communities like those in Grand Sud and Guchi have played no role in driving the climate crisis, but their children are paying the price with their health and lives.