Nearly 30,000 people in Madagascar are in the grips of the world’s only famine driven by climate change, the UN said Tuesday, describing “heartbreaking” scenes of children wasting away.
The island nation off southeastern Africa has been hit by its worst drought in four decades, brought on by global warming.
The UN’s World Food Programme said that more than 27,800 people were now officially affected by famine in the country, and more than 1.3 million others were considered to be in a food security crisis or emergency.
“This is basically the only… climate change famine on Earth,” Arduino Mangoni, WFP’s deputy country director in Madagascar told journalists in Geneva via video-link from the crisis-hit country.
Other famines currently stalking Yemen, Ethiopia’s Tigray region and South Sudan were brought on by conflicts, he said.
But he warned that “given the trends”, climate change may provoke other famines in the world “in the coming months and in the coming years.”
“We’re seeing signs of that everywhere.”
His comments came as world leaders gathered in Glasgow to discuss how to rein in the climate crisis.
Mangoni said the situation in Madagascar was particularly “alarming”.
He described a recent visit to a nutrition centre filled with silent, staring children “who were really skin and bones”.
“The situation is heartbreaking.”
He added that Madagascar has only just entered its usual “lean season”, and faces another six months before the next harvest, if it comes in.
“The situation between now and in March-April, when the harvest is expected, cannot but further deteriorate,” Mangoni warned, stressing the need to urgently increase assistance.
WFP said it immediately needed $69 million to provide emergency life-saving aid over the next six months.
Already, half a million children in the country are acutely malnourished, including 110,000 suffering from severe acute malnutrition, and basically a step away from death.
Mangoni said aid workers were hearing numerous reports from mothers that their children had died, but said it was difficult to provide numbers on deaths in the crisis, since few births and deaths among young children are registered in the country.
“It is only by anecdotal evidence, and also by seeing the reality on the ground, that we can assume that children are dying,” he said.