Stories from a parched land of women's tears for thirsty children, and farmers whose hope is spent.
Tiny wooden houses are scattered across the harsh gray sand of Kobokara hamlet in southern Madagascar. A woman squats in one of them, looking out her low door. Her small stick house is bare, but for a blanket, a mosquito net and a homemade straw mat.
Her words settle in a sigh: “I have nothing left.”
It is the lament of a parched land, where women cry for thirsty children, and farmers’ hope is spent.
In Madagascar, the island nation off the southeastern coast of Africa, a grim cycle has set in. Rains arrive late and leave early in the African country most exposed to climate change, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. Droughts, earthquakes, epidemics, floods, cyclones and extreme temperatures have wrought severe damage on agriculture in recent decades.
The worst drought in 35 years pushed families to the brink in the last year, with the harvest 95% lower than in 2015.
Fringes of prickly pear cactus run through Kobokara, yet to bear fruit. Usually it is only cattle fodder.
“It’s been one year that we have been eating the leaves of the cactus,” said the woman in the stick house, Tonelie. Like many here, she has only one name.
Nearly 850,000 people in Madagascar desperately need food aid. But the U.N.’s humanitarian appeal for the country is only 29% funded because of emergencies elsewhere. Even the most desperate families are given only half of what they need to survive.
Each year, farmers in southern Madagascar sow their seeds in November for the rainy season, but in recent years the skies have only spluttered sulkily for a few weeks, before drying up and searing the immature crops.
Some rain finally arrived late last year, but many families had no seeds left to plant and no money to buy them.
With repeated crop failures, people have to sell firewood to survive, taking small sharp axes and hacking efficiently at the trees that are the lungs of their dying country — only deepening the crisis.
Tonelie, 42, has six of her eight children still living at home and no husband. She has land to farm, but it is bare.
Eight months ago, she made the long, regretful walk to market to sell her last cow. Many people in this harsh land have sold their last goat or even their last chicken.
Then week by week, they have sold everything else: clothes, spoons, tin plates, cups, pots, plastic sheets. Even their mattresses.
They cling finally to their plastic water cans, receptacles of the last drops of hope.
Tonelie even had to sell hers.
Painfully thin, she speaks with quiet resignation. She rises each morning with empty pockets and has the hours of daylight to somehow come up with something so that she and her children can live another day. She works someone else’s land to earn the equivalent of about 30 cents a day.
She took her children out of school because there was no money, so they must help in the grinding job of survival.
In Kobokara, people dig holes in the sandy ground for water, but five months ago, the water dried up. Once a week, water sellers from a village to the east drive their ox carts nine miles along the deep sandy track, and Tonelie takes out the crumpled, sweaty banknotes that will decide her week.
“If I have [enough] money I buy two cans. If not I buy only one can,” said Tonelie, referring to the plastic five-gallon cans used to store water. (She has to borrow them.) In a bad week, that leaves the equivalent of just over one soda can apiece a day.
“My biggest problem is food,” she said. The 30 cents she earns as a farm laborer buys water, “but it’s not enough to buy food.” Her family survives on prickly pear cactus and occasional handouts from an uncle in a nearby village.
Across the south, small children endure constant, pitiless thirst. Mothers go without so that their children can drink a little more.
“The biggest issue in the south is water. They don’t have rain. They don’t have access to water, even in good years,” said Elke Wisch, UNICEF’s country director for Madagascar.
In the neighboring village of Ikopoky, Jocelyn Rasoanakambana, 29, puts her six children to sleep without water on the days she has no money.
“I can borrow a bit of money to buy water,” she said recently. “But when it’s day after day after day, even my relatives don’t want to give. When we have no money, we go to bed without drinking any water.
“Last Thursday was one of the worst days. I had no money to buy water, so my children were crying. I felt so helpless, thinking about what is happening to us. Sometimes when I see my children crying, there’s a tear in my eye too.”
In her village, three children in one family died recently and the parents moved away.
Humanitarian agencies such as the World Food Program, UNICEF, Catholic Relief Services and USAID have tried to help, providing cash grants, food, seeds, water and health projects. But their efforts haven’t been enough.
World Food Program rations had to be cut in half because the agency’s fundraising target from donors fell short, and some villages were never reached by humanitarian agencies.
“Families are ashamed abut not being able to provide for their kids. They’re embarrassed,” said Joshua Poole of Catholic Relief Services. “If a child passes away they wait until night to bury them, when no one else is around.”
From Tonelie’s house in Kobokara, it’s short walk past a rare shady tree to the small house of an old farmer named Veza. He plucks a red flower from the prickly pear cactus and bites into it with crooked yellow teeth. He planted last year, but the crop died; this year he had no money and no seeds, and there was not enough rain.
He senses his life is coming to an end, gradually whittled back to nothing.
Veza’s modest wealth was the work of a lifetime: three goats and four cattle, in a culture where money and pride are counted in herds of cows and bulls. But one of the cattle died. Four years ago, after bad rains and a failed harvest, he took the bitter decision to sell the other three.
“I didn’t have any choice. I felt terrible, because I didn’t have cattle. I had nothing.” A year later his wife, calling him weak, walked out and never came back.
Then two of his three goats died. And with dwindling hope in recent months, he sold the last goat and all his plates and pots.
“I am so unhappy. I’m just waiting out the rest of my life, until I die.”
- Drought And Climate Change Are Forcing Young Guatemalans To Flee To The U.S.
- In Somalia, famine is looming and families with no food or water are leaving their land
- Sri Lanka Is Suffering Its Worst Drought In 40 Years
- California storms leave 4 dead, state of emergency declared in 50 counties
- Malaysia Airlines plane search suspended after nearly 3 years
- Northern Nevada, California hit by heavy rains, mudslides
- These Graphics Show How Terrible Climate Change Was In 2016
- Kick Off 2017 By Reading Some Of Our Best Journalism From Last Year
- Online tool could help B.C. ranchers prepare for drought
- Sao Paulo, Brazil, officials downplay water crisis as residents suffer
- Where should you travel in 2017? A list of top travel lists
- Large Regions of U.S. Damaged by Drought in 2016
You might also like
- ‘In 20 years, are you really going to say, I wish I’d cleaned my bathroom more?’
- Elite law schools are really tough to get into. But what if you’re Tiffany Trump?
- Can Taking a Daily Orgasm Pledge Make You More Successful?
- The 1 Thing You Should Try Adding to Your Scrambled Eggs
- Honey is yummy — but not as good for you as you might think
- 26 Foods to Keep You Looking & Feeling Young
- As Trump tightens border, U.S. Congress bill would allow snowbirds to stay for an extra two months
- It's been one month. How's the Trump agenda going?
- How internet detectives are helping diagnose rare disorders
- GOP draft health care bill cuts Medicaid, insurance subsidies
- DHS document casts doubt on extra threat from 'travel ban' citizens
- Here's what's in Trump's new immigration order
- Powerful South Carolina political consultant implicated in indictments of a veteran state senator
- Will Donald Trump get a second Supreme Court nomination?
- "Hazing" rituals await Supreme Court's "junior justice" Neil Gorsuch
- The hunt is on for Planet Nine. Here's how to join it
- Trump approves controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline
- Trump praises 'Fox & Friends,' renews old feuds in early morning tweets
- Rex Tillerson finally answers question from NBC News' Andrea Mitchell
- First Read's Morning Clips: The Latest in the Russia Investigation
- Spicer: 'I've let the president down'
- Russian President Vladimir Putin met with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday
- OMB Diriector Mick Mulvaney: Washington's 'a lot more broken' than Trump thought
- Trump attacks conservatives over failure of health care bill
- A very consequential week didn't go well for President Trump
- Health Care Showdown: Republicans look to go big or go home
- No deal on health care bill after conservatives meet with Trump
- CA gov on those supporting health bill: 'Their name is going to be mud'
- Give it to me straight, doc: Is Obamacare dying?
- First Read's Morning Clips: Waiting for CBO
- 14 People Share What's It's Really Like to Have An Ex Who Is Now Their In-Law
- The Internet Is Freaking Out About The Way This Chef Cuts Pizza
- South Africa’s credit rating just got downgraded to junk. Could this be the end for Jacob Zuma?
- South Africa leader fires finance minister in late-night purge, sparking currency plunge
- With 20 million people facing starvation, Trump's foreign aid cuts strike fear
- U.N. warns of famine in Africa and western Asia as it seeks billions of dollars to prevent catastrophes
- The millennials cashing in on Africa's internet addiction
- Somalia: 'People are dying..there's no water'
- Abuja airport shutdown 'hugely embarrassing'
- Christians flee their homes after ISIS attacks in Egypt
- Award-winning photos capture life on the farmlands of rural Africa
- 'The Wound': Is this Africa's 'Moonlight' moment?
- Somalia drought: 110 die amid fears of famine
- Zimbabwe's Mugabe turns 93; lauds Trump's nationalist stance
- M-Pesa: Kenya's mobile success story turns 10
- Kasha Nabagesera: The face of Uganda's LGBT movement
- In South Africa, a protest against foreigners turns violent. Why was it allowed to go ahead?
- Nigerian president disdains his country's best hospital for medical care in Britain. But what ails him?
- Famine strikes in South Sudan, as people in four countries face starvation
- Kenya's High Court rules against government plan to close the world's biggest refugee camp
- In Somalia, famine is looming and families with no food or water are leaving their land
- African leaders amp up pressure on the International Criminal Court, with a plan for mass exit