To stay up to date with African news, subscribe to the “Monde Afrique” newsletter from this link. Every Saturday at 6 am, find a week of current events and debates treated by the editorial staff of “Monde Afrique”.
This is his first time “To the capital”, his first time outside Amboasary-Atsimo, his native village in the far south of Madagascar. Namindra, 39 – he has no other name – is leaning against the wall of the Maki bus station, one of the largest in Antananarivo. With protruding muscles and scraped feet, the farmer arrived early in the morning, after 72 hours in a bush taxi and nearly a thousand kilometers traveled.
“The journey is not over. There, we wait for a second vehicle to go back to Andriba, near Mahajunga [côte ouest de l’île]. I’m going to plant or be a driver, I don’t know yet ”, he admits, shrugging his shoulders. He nods at four of his children and one of his wives, who are sitting a little further away. His second wife remained in the village with her last son. A family victim, like many others, of “Kéré”, a word from the Antandroy dialect (the ethnic group that populates this region) which means ” to be starving ” and more generally designates the famine which regularly rages on the Big Island.
Namindra paid for the trip by selling her last possessions: small spoons and a few pots. He hopes to be able to return within two years, when he has amassed sufficient nest egg. ” Where I come from, he says, I cultivate everything I can, but the rain hasn’t been falling for months. Plants die, animals too. My children must eat. It’s been three years since it really became difficult. I left to earn some money and send it to the rest of my family and parents so they can feed themselves. “
No choice but to go
According to the police, around fifty migrants have landed in Antananarivo every day for two weeks. They do not stay there, preferring to settle in the north of the island or on the coasts, where the climate is milder. However, it is difficult to measure the extent of these migrations, which are not new.
“The first reference to this type of population movement dates from 1922, explains Mahatante Tsimanaraoty Paubert, research professor at the University of Tulear and specialist in climate change. This is the year when the French colonists introduced the cochineal to Antananarivo ”. The insect eventually arrived in the Androy region, “The land of thorns”, in the extreme south of the island, where he nibbled on the cacti whose fruits allowed the populations to survive while awaiting the harvests. The first kere officially recorded date, it, 1896. Since then, the country has experienced sixteen episodes of famine, the last of which, still ongoing, began in May 2020.
Problem of water supply, decrease in the quantity of food, massive sale of livestock and goods… According to Mahatante Tsimanaraoty Paubert, the 2020 famine resembles the previous ones, but denotes its exceptional hardness. “It is rare to see so many families leaving their region. In the Antandroy ethnic group, for example, it is all the more surprising that the dead must be buried on the land of their ancestors ”, specifies the researcher. Leaving can mean bad luck and a break with the family.
But the drought is so widespread this year that the underprivileged populations of the south have no choice but to leave. “Three different regions are concerned at the same time: Androy, Anosy and Atsimo-Andrefana. Usually, when the Androy is famine, the Anosy is able to refuel and vice versa ”, underlines Mahatante Tsimanaraoty Paubert.
“A primarily political problem”
The context of a global pandemic and travel restrictions did not help the situation. By causing the closure of schools, the Covid-19 deprived children of their daily meals. It has also slowed down the functioning of the health centers on which the populations depend.
The World Food Program (WFP) alerted on January 12 to the looming humanitarian crisis in southern Madagascar, with “A rate of malnutrition which increases crescendo” due to a third consecutive year of terrible drought. According to the UN organization, 1.35 million people are at risk of quickly finding themselves in a situation of food insecurity.
In 2018, in his thirteen-point program resulting from his Initiative for the emergence of Madagascar platform, the President of the Republic Andry Rajoelina promised access to electricity and drinking water for all. In vain.
“Before being a problem exacerbated by climate change, kéré is above all a political problem, Mahatante Tsimanaraoty Paubert analysis. The government knew it was going to happen and did not provide the expected solutions – just like previous governments. Humanitarian workers are dealing with the consequence, the kéré, but only the State can tackle the root of the problem, that is to say the drought, and therefore the lack of water. “