Climate reality in Southern Madagascar: no water, no food.

28 October 2021
Madagascar, Climate change
A woman walks along the Mandrare river bed, with a basket on her head, Amboasary, Anosy Region, Madagascar
Image: WaterAid/ Ernest Randriarimalala

New York, NYClimate reality in Southern Madagascar: no water, no food
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On the eve of COP26 in Glasgow, evidence of the urgency of the climate crisis comes from Southern Madagascar, where the worst drought for 40 years has caused rivers to dry up and shocking food shortages are forcing some to resort to eating cactus or cattle fodder, WaterAid said today

The drought is pushing communities to desperate measures just to survive, the organisation warned, with water prices soaring.

Even in normal times, collecting water used to take 55-year-old Florine Azefotsy four to seven hours a day from her home in the Berano commune in the Androy region of Southern Madagascar. Only now she can no longer do so as the nearest Mandrare River is almost completely dry and her legs are too weak. She now has to sell coffee to buy water at prices which have already risen by up to 15 times the average. (1) Berano means ‘abundant water’ in Malagasy, but the region is now known as the Kingdom of Kere, or ‘famine’.

“We used to be a great farming community, able to feed ourselves,” she said, as she looked over the dusty field where she was once able to grow sweet potatoes. “But since the rain stopped coming regularly, things have changed. Life is becoming harder and harder every year and over the last year we have experienced famine.”

“In the beginning, we started to borrow food from one another in the hope that tomorrow there would be a solution. But then there was nothing to eat or borrow in the village anymore, so we had nothing. We started to eat cactus and anything we could find for days.

“There were no kids playing around the village anymore. Our village looked like a ghost village. The school was closed. We just stayed in the shade in our homes, slept and tried to save the little energy remaining. We slept for days without eating.

“Our village has lost other elderly people because they were not able to stand long days without eating and drinking. I was terrified and thought my time here was over.”

Southern Madagascar has suffered two years of failed rains, leading to the worst drought since 1981. Over the last rainy season to January, there was less than 50% of the normal rainfall which in turn contributed to 60% losses to the annual harvest in May.(2)

In the south of the country, 70% of people have no access to basic drinking water and 50% of the region is in urgent need of water, sanitation and hygiene assistance. A UN-led appeal is targeting 1.3m people with food assistance and 800,000 with access to clean water (2) and according to the UN, Madagascar could be facing the first climate change famine.

Philomène Sana, 32, lives in a tiny house in a village in the Anosy region in Southern Madagascar. She is surviving by eating dried cassava meant for livestock. The price of a kilo of rice has risen by more than 350 times over the last 20 years making it completely unaffordable for most people.

“Everyday life has become a battle for survival without regular rainfall,” she said. “Things have gone from bad to worse over the last seven years. There is nothing you can do anymore in the village to survive. The land is totally dry. Nothing grows anymore. Most of the time we go to bed with empty bellies.”

It’s clear that climate change is a major contributory factor to the failure of the rains in Southern Madagascar which has led to the situation of drought and consequently serious food shortages. It is one of the starkest examples in the world today that the climate crisis is at heart a water crisis.

I will be attending the COP26 summit to add my voice to those calling for world leaders to urgently meet their commitments towards the $100bn climate fund. At least half of that needs to go towards adaptation funding to support communities who are already struggling at the forefront of the crisis, and to help countries like mine build lasting resilience to climate impacts today and in the future. We also ask that those adaptation funds be allocated in the form of grants and not loans to avoid dragging these countries further into poverty
Hanta Rabesandratana, Head of Programs, Governance and Policy for WaterAid Madagascar

WaterAid in Madagascar is working at a strategic level to strengthen the water, sanitation and hygiene sector by providing support on national policy, strategy and sectoral plans development. The organization ensures that climate change, and specifically adaptation, is integrated into those strategic documents. However, the effective implementation of those policies requires adequate funding that should come from climate financing, the organisation urged.


  • 771 million people in the world – one in ten – do not have clean water close to home.
  • Two billion people in the world – almost one in four – do not have a decent toilet of their own.
  • Around 310,000 children under five die every year from diarrheal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation. That's around 800 children a day, or one child every two minutes. 
  • Every $2 invested in water and toilets returns an average of $8 in increased productivity.
  • $50 can help run a handwashing campaign to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

WaterAid is an international nonprofit working in 30+ countries to change the lives of the poorest and most marginalized people. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 28.1 million people with clean water and 28.8 million people with decent toilets. 

For more information, contact: Emily Haile, Director of Communications, [email protected]

You can also call our global, 24-hour press line at +44 (0)7887 521 552 or email [email protected].



Further resources



  1. 15 fold increase from OCHA_HumanitarianSnapshot_July2021.pdf
  2. MDG_20210819_GrandSud_FlashAppealRevision_June2021.pdf