The First Climate Famine

Madagascar is in the midst of a famine. While this may come as news to most people around the world, the UN has cited this as the first famine caused due to climate change [1]. Madagascar has historically produced negligible amounts of carbon. However, they are the first to feel the disastrous effects of climate change.

The lands impoverished by colonialism are in line to face the consequence of the excesses of the colonizers once more. As the effects of climate change are being felt around the world, the mistruths perpetuated by self-interested parties to slow down climate action come into sharper relief every day. Politicians around the world claim that climate action has to be balanced with economic interests. This is a false dichotomy since any delayed action will result in much higher adaptation costs in the future.  It also exposes the amorality of the drive to extract value from the system regardless of the costs to the environment or human and animal life. 


Madagascar is a nation of 28 million. The second largest island in the world is facing its sixth year of continuous drought. While most famines are linked to wars and conflict, the famine in Madagascar is purely a consequence of changing weather. While no single weather event can be conclusively linked to climate change, the worsening trend of more frequent and extreme weather events, such as droughts or extreme heat, has long been predicted as the main consequence of the changing climate.

UN World Food Programme (UNWFP) estimates at least 1.14 million people have been suffering from hunger since September 2020 and 14000 are estimated to be facing Phase 5 conditions as per Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, the worst classification of food security [2]. Parents have been forced to feed dried cactus and boiled leather to the children to ward off hunger. Acute malnutrition of children has increased from 9% to 16% [3]. This is a dire situation and UNWFP estimates $ 78 million will be necessary to provide the vital aid that is required immediately in Madagascar [4]. This amount is miniscule when compared to the budgets of the wealthiest nations who are largely responsible for the current state of affairs. The lack of frameworks that force historical carbon emitters to pay for adaptation and aid is by design. 

Nationalism rears its ugly head during times of crisis or deprivation. Climate change is set to deliver both in spades. The only moral standpoint is justice and equality for all; and not only those who are fortunate enough to be born in or be sought after for their skills by wealthy nations. Climate change is a global issue and those who will suffer most are those who are least to blame for the current state of affairs.

Climate justice is about ensuring equity for all regardless of their age, gender, or country of residence. If coordinated global action is not taken immediately and on an ongoing basis, it will doubtless remain an indelible stain on our collective humanity. The terrible effects of climate change are already being felt and will doubtless get worse with time. Having a global perspective is essential to ensure we do not create a two-tiered global community where the poor are left to suffer while wealthier countries pursue profit-before-people mandates that accelerate both the social and environmental crises.

To donate to famine relief in Madagascar, please visit: