Drought-Stricken Madagascar a 'Wake-Up Call' to Rest of World Facing Climate Change: U.N.

The United Nations' food agency has referenced Madagascar as an example of what's to come as the climate crisis continues.

World Food Program (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley told the Associated Press in an interview that he recently visited the island country and witnessed the "famine-like conditions" in which people lived.

"Madagascar was heartbreaking," Beasley said. "It's just desperate," with people reduced to selling their household pots and pans to try to buy food, he said.

Last year there were about 38 million climate refugees (people who were displaced due to climate-change effects), according to Beasley. On Tuesday, the WFP released numbers saying some 30,000 people in Madagascar will be one step away from famine by the end of the year.

Extreme weather conditions like warm temperatures, drought and sandstorms make it exceptionally hard for food to grow there. Crops have wilted, and harvests are scarce. People have taken to eating cactus leaves, which usually are cattle fodder, the U.N. food agency said.

Beasley warned the world that the desolate landscape is "the beginning of what we can expect" as the consequences of global warming.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Madagascar climate change refugees
People in Madagascar struggle to live in famine-like conditions due to climate change effects. This photo made available by the World Food Program on November 2, 2021, shows a woman doing her laundry in one of the holes dug to access water in Tsihombe, Androy Region, Madagascar. Alice Rahmou/AP Photo

When Beasley, a former South Carolina governor, took the World Food Program helm in 2017, the top reason for people being on the brink of starvation was manmade conflict, followed by climate change, he said.

But since then, climate change has been eclipsing conflicts as the bigger driver in displacing people and leaving them not knowing where their next meal will come from. Last year, about 38 million, he said, were displaced "strictly because of climate shocks, climate change," Beasley said.

"I would like to think this is the worst-case scenario—216 million people by 2050 that will be migrating or displaced because of climate change," he said. "Madagascar is not an isolated incident. The world needs to look to Madagascar to see what is coming your way and [to] many other countries around the world."

He pointed out that Madagascar, a country of 27 million people, accounts for only the tiniest fraction of greenhouse gas emissions in global terms.

"What did they do to contribute to climate change?'' he asked rhetorically.

The World Food Program has been supplying some 700,000 people on the island with food and supplemental nutritional products for pregnant and nursing women and children.

In Ethiopia, by contrast, famine is manmade, caused by conflict.

The WFP estimates that 5.2 million people are in need of of emergency food assistance in Tigray, Ethiopia's embattled northern region. United Nations officials have warned in recent weeks that more than 400,000 people could face starvation and death if humanitarian aid isn't delivered quickly, but hardly any aid can get to those who desperately need to eat.