The United Nations' food agency has warned that climate change has pushed Madagascar to the brink of famine.
The country, usually known for its rich and remarkable wildlife and vegetation, has become the first in the world to experience food shortages because of global warming, according to the World Food Programme.
The WFP said that a severe lack of rains and sandstorms, caused by deforestation, along with the Covid-19 pandemic have made it nearly impossible for farmers to grow their own food, leaving at least 1.31 million people severely food insecure.
Since September 2020, the start of the lean season, the situation has turned critical as families depleted their food supplies and gone through vital seed stocks.
In Ambovombe, the main town in hard-hit Androy region, hundreds have been surviving without help for months.
Currently, up to 80 percent of the population in certain areas in the south are resorting to desperate survival measures, such as eating locusts, raw red cactus fruits or wild leaves.
Aid agency works have been left stunned by the levels of malnutrition amongst children when visiting southern Madagascar.
'No energy to talk or cry'
The WFP’s Chief David Beasley recently compared the hunger and malnutrition to a ‘horror film’, adding it was "enough to bring even the most hardened humanitarian to tears".
"I have been working in several countries in this continent - in the Central African Republic, in DRC, in Congo, in Sudan - I have never seen kids left with skin and bones," the WFP’s Deputy Country Director in Madagascar, Arduino Mangoni told RTÉ News.
"I have also seen silence in the nutrition centres for children and this is very indicative of the severity of malnutrition. Hundreds of kids in small rooms and there was an overwhelming silence that would speak for itself in a way. So these kids did not have the energy not even to talk or to cry as normally nourished kids would do," he said.
There is currently no system tracking the number who have died of starvation. However, AFP has tallied at least 340 deaths from local authority figures in recent months.
DROUGHT— David Beasley (@WFPChief) June 28, 2021
This is what is driving families to the brink of starvation in Southern #Madagascar. Help us spread the word that more support and resources are needed NOW. pic.twitter.com/8BiwJ7fK3j
The World Food Programme said around 14,000 people have reached a stage where they have ‘absolutely nothing left’ to eat.
"People have exhausted their coping strategies. They have nothing left. They are selling their land, their homes. Their kitchen utensils. We’ve seen thousands of people abandoning their villages and moving towards the urban centres around the coast," Mr Mangoni added.
The outlook is bleak for those living in the dire conditions on the island state off the eastern African coast.
Prospects for the 2021 harvest season are poor, indicating another long tough lean season from October to March 2022.
The UN estimates it will need $78.6m to provide vital food aid in the next lean season starting in October.
"If there is no rain in October, or at worst January next year, then we'll be in a very bad situation. We're already in a bad situation but we'll be in an unmanageable situation," said UNICEF’s Deputy Representative in Madagascar, Jean-Benoit Manhes.
He told RTÉ News that over the next five months they will keep fighting for the survival of the children affected.
‘Going to get drier’
Southern Madagascar is the only place in the world where climate change and the pandemic, rather than conflict, are blamed for the famine like conditions.
For Dr Nick Scroxton, who has been researching climate systems in Madagascar, the country experiencing its worst drought in more than 40 years and the growing malnutrition is not surprising.
"This is something we expect. Climate models are predicting that southern Africa is going to get drier over the coming years and droughts are likely to become more frequent, longer lasting and more severe," said Dr Scroxton from the School of Earth Sciences in University College Dublin.
"We’ve seen this with the droughts in Cape Town recently and places like the south west of the United States which are in the middle of historical droughts at the moment.
Madagascar is just latest in a long line of droughts which are only going to get worse in the coming years" he added.
Fears continue to grow for the future of Madagascar and also what this means for future of our planet.