Three years of drought and the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the people of Madagascar to crisis point

January 27, 2021
River Ikopa January 2021
WaterAid/ Tiana Rakotomavo

Following three consecutive years of drought, the people of Madagascar are facing a crisis. Nearly half of the 25 million people who live in Madagascar already have no access to clean water, and a staggering three-quarters live in poverty.

Now the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance in the south of the country has doubled to more than 1.3 million, according to a statement from the UN.

Madagascar has become increasingly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as unpredictable rainfall, in recent years. Water levels in the main rivers on which families rely have fallen dramatically and have not been replenished by rainfall, so crops have failed.

During the pandemic families are becoming desperate, unable to supplement their income with seasonal work while markets remain closed. Children in rural areas have abandoned school to search for food.

The situation is so serious that even people living in Madagascar’s capital, Antananarivo, have been affected by erratic water supplies over the last six months. Drought has caused water levels in streams, rivers and reservoirs to drop – putting more pressure on groundwater supplies to serve the needs of growing populations and rapidly expanding towns and cities. There is also poor management of water resources leading to unregulated agricultural and industrial use.

Images captured in the capital show inhabitants venturing into the middle of the river Ikopa, which is almost completely dry, to wash clothes.

Hantaniaina Rabesandratana, Head of Programmes at WaterAid Madagascar said:

“We are already struggling to cope with the climate crisis, and now, with COVID-19. Families in Madagascar are facing unprecedented hardship due to the combination of the failure of the rains and subsequent water shortages, and the economic impact of the pandemic. 

“This drought is a clear illustration that the effects of climate change are already being felt by some of the world’s poorest people. There have been repeated warnings of this drought, but it is only now that measures are being taken.

“The humanitarian response to this crisis – as well as ongoing funds allocated to protecting vulnerable people from the effects of climate change – must include urgent investment in basic services including clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene, which can protect communities for years to come. Without this, we will remain on the edge of catastrophe.”

WaterAid Madagascar is working hard to ensure families across the country have access to clean water, putting hygiene at the top of the political agenda and facilitating partnerships between the government the businesses that have the power to make a difference.

But the twin threats of climate change and the COVID-19 are making their already challenging mission even harder.

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Notes to editors:


WaterAid is working to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere within a generation. The international not-for-profit organization works in 28 countries to change the lives of the poorest and most marginalized people. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 27 million people with clean water and 27 million people with decent toilets. For more information, visit, follow @WaterAidCanada or @WaterAidPress on Twitter