Multiple cyclones, historic drought in Madagascar cause widespread food insecurity

Extreme weather events are wreaking havoc on Madagascar, including multiple cyclones that have already hit the island nation this year. Sitting off the east coast of Africa, it is one of the poorest nations in the world. And as John Yang reports, it's ill-equipped to deal with the climate threats it now faces.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Extreme weather events are wreaking havoc on Madagascar, including multiple cyclones that have already hit the island nation this year, sitting off the coast, the east coast of Africa. It is one of the poorest nations in the world.

    John Yang is back with a report on how it is ill-equipped to deal with the climate threats it now faces.

  • John Yang:

    The cyclones that hit Madagascar in rapid succession were a double-edged sword. In late January, Cyclone Ana hit, in early February, Cyclone Batsirai.

    Their damaging winds and punishing rain washed out bridges, triggered landslides, and inundated large parts of the Indian Ocean island nation's coast.

  • Sezie Kajy (Resident of Madagascar):

    We were in a bad situation. All the houses were destroyed. Water from the river and water from the sea rose. All the houses collapsed. We were really scared.

  • John Yang:

    At least 175 people died, and hundreds of thousands were displaced. Crops nearing harvest were destroyed, a blow for a nation with one of the lowest median incomes in the world, only $471 a year.

  • Pasqualina Disirio, World Food Program:

    We know for sure that the rice fields, that the rice crops will be damaged, will be lost. So, this is the main crop for Malagasy people is — and they will be seriously affected in food security in the next three to six months, if we don't do something immediately, and we don't help them recover.

  • John Yang:

    But for the Southern part of Madagascar, the rainfall came as a relief, after intense drought for six of the last seven years.

  • Woman (through translator):

    It was abundant rain, and there was a lot of wind as well. When rain falls, the hole that we get the water from keeps water for about a week.

  • John Yang:

    People and cattle alike flocked to the watering holes created by the rain, the cattle to drink, the people gather it to sell.

  • Woman (through translator):

    My job is to sell water. If I manage to sell water, we eat. If I don't sell any, we go to sleep hungry. My children don't go to school because they are hungry.

  • John Yang:

    Part of what's happening with Madagascar's weather woes has to do with the rising temperatures in the world's oceans.

  • Chris Funk, University Of California, Santa Barbara:

    Ninety percent of the energy that's being added to the Earth due to climate change ends up in the oceans. And it moves around. And it produces extreme climate conditions in Eastern and Southern Africa.

  • John Yang:

    Chris Funk is the director of the Climate Hazards Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

  • Chris Funk:

    This is not something to believe. This is just basic physics that, when the atmosphere warms up, the oxygen and nitrogen molecules that mostly make up the atmosphere move further apart.

    And so that allows more room for molecules of water vapor, of water to be in the atmosphere. It can explain or at least partly explain both the intense drought there and also the increased frequency of extreme precipitation that we're seeing in a lot of places in the world, not just Madagascar.

  • John Yang:

    Southern Madagascar's droughts have dried out vegetation, driving a food crisis affecting more than a million people.

    With food options scarce and expensive, some resort to eating cactus, cactus flowers, even locusts.

  • Arduino Mangono, World Food Program:

    Because of the drought, because of the sandstorms, this is a new phenomenon that has manifested in the last couple of years itself.

    Prices are skyrocketing because of the very poor agricultural production. And people do not have enough food to eat. They don't have enough money to have access to the food. And malnutrition rates are augmenting. These people have not contributed to climate change, but they are paying probably the highest price.

  • John Yang:

    Madagascar's share of global carbon dioxide emissions is one-one-hundredth-of-a-percent. U.S. emissions, by contrast, are 13.5 percent.

    As world leaders met last fall at the climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, the president of Madagascar pleaded for help.

    Andry Rajoelina, President of Madagascar (through translator): We pollute the least compared to other countries in the world. This part of Madagascar is a victim of climate change, except they have not participated in it.

    The countries that pollute the most must help the countries that pollute less, so that we can, in my opinion, mitigate the impact of this climate change, and also help the population in this part of the country.

  • John Yang:

    For now, the focus for many is rebuilding after the storms and waiting to see how many more are on the horizon.

    Tonight, a fourth cyclone is bearing down on the island, and tropical storm season in the region lasts until May.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So disturbing.

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