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Madagascar: ”Climate change compounds humanitarian needs" – UN Deputy Humanitarian Chief

03 Jun 2019


Parents send their kids to the school, so they can eat at least eat one meal while learning. “We are just not able to feed them”, these mothers told Ms. Mueller. Credit: OCHA/Vanessa May

UN Deputy Humanitarian Chief Ursula Mueller is in Madagascar to witness firsthand the prolonged impact of recurrent disease epidemics, including plague and measles, vulnerability to natural disasters, chronic food insecurity and high levels of stunting in the south of the country.

Madagascar faces the highest risk from cyclones in Africa. It is frequently ranked as one of the top ten most climate vulnerable nations. About 9 out of 10 people in Madagascar live on less than $2 per day while two-thirds of the Malagasy people live in areas at high risk of natural disasters.

Madagascar’s maternal mortality rate is amongst the highest in the world. More than 50 per cent of children under age 5 are chronically malnourished. Vaccination rates against communicable diseases are low (58 per cent for measles). Access to clean water is the fourth lowest in Africa.

“I have seen the reality of climate change, with the poorest and most vulnerable people bearing the brunt of a phenomenon that they had no hand in creating”, Ms. Mueller said. “Extreme weather events in Madagascar are becoming more frequent and intense. And the devastating impact of these disasters has negated nascent development gains and aggravated the already extremely high levels of vulnerability and poverty in the country. With every new shock, people’s resilience is eroded, and needs escalate”.

Between September 2018 and May 2019, at least 1,440 people died as the result of a large-scale measles outbreak, most of whom were children. The year before, the country suffered one of its largest outbreaks of the plague. And this year, two districts in the Grand Sud have faced Emergency (IPC Phase 4) levels of food insecurity.

“I am here to ensure that the country’s plight receives the attention that it deserves on the global scale. The Government, together with international partners, has made progress on addressing the root causes of recurrent humanitarian needs. A comprehensive development strategy has been developed for the Grand Sud. But without global action to tackle climate change, Madagascar will face more severe floods, cyclones and drought. It is therefore imperative that we – as a global community – act.”

School feeding programmes allow children to eat once a day

Ms. Mueller with Rose, the director of the Public Primary School in Beabo, Ambovombe. Credit: OCHA/Vanessa May

The Public Primary School in Beabo, Ambovombe, runs a multi sectoral project. The national government, together with FAO, ILO, IFAD, UNICEF and WFP, ensure the children attending the school receive a full meal. Since 2011, for hundreds of children that is all the food they would be able to receive all day.

Valiaomby Fideline, 50 years old, is a single mother of three boys (15, 13 and 8). Her 2 youngest children are enrolled in the Beabo Public Primary School. Valiaomby was happy to share her story with Ms. Mueller. A strong, resilient woman, she couldn’t stop smiling and showing appreciation because her story was finally heard.

“My dream is that my children will one day be able to get a degree and be self-sufficient", Valiaomby  told Ms. Mueller. "I want them to have a better life than the one we have now. They deserve a chance.” Credit: OCHA/Saviano Abreu

“I wash clothes for other families to make a living. I used to work during the harvests as well, but the recurrent droughts made it more and more difficult for me to find work. It’s hard to live with this drought. There is not enough food, there are not enough jobs. And in my family, we can only eat once per day”.

The school feeding project has improved the situation dramatically. Valiaomby explained that she is part of the Association of Pupil’s Parents and works in the school canteen 5 times per week. “I help my children and other families, so they can eat properly and learn”. This project is very important, because the children can go to classes on a full stomach and that allows them to concentrate and learn during the day”.

Severe underfunding

At the end of last year, the humanitarian community launched a Flash Appeal requesting US$32.4 million to assist 460,000 people in dire need of food, water, health and basic services. Funding is critically needed not just to respond to residual humanitarian needs, but also to undertake innovative and comprehensive development action, especially in the Grand Sud.

To date, the appeal remains severely underfunded. “I call on the generosity of donors to step-up at this time of need”, Ms. Mueller stressed. "The United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has played a critical role in Madagascar, funding rapid response to multiple crises and contributing to tackle both the measles outbreak and plague epidemic. However, more is urgently needed and it is needed now".