As I write this post, I hear the harmonious cheers and whistles coming from my neighbors as they stand on their verandas, watching the sky. Shirtless girls and boys skip through the quickly forming puddles with bowls, buckets and teapots in tow. They rush to the broken gutter on the corner of my house and hold their containers high above their heads. I hear squeals of laughter as they dance in the rain. Today is a happy day.
But yesterday wasn’t as happy. Neither was the day before it. Or the day before that.
While the rain brings a promise of life and growth in the fields, up until now, it’s been all but a ghost in the Androy region. The daunting absence of rain mixed with one week after another of powerful, stubborn winds have sucked the life out of the southern desert. Even the cactus, used to feed the cows, have shrunk like raisins. And in an area where the majority of the population relies on subsistence farming, the sweet potatoes and corn and cassava aren’t just their crops. They are their lives.
On market day, families huddled together selling anything and everything from their homes: spoons, plates, pots, silverware, suitcases, blankets and mosquito nets.
With no crops to sell, they desperately tried to earn money any way to get them through the drought that no one could say would end. Each additional day with no rain only brought more and more fear. The town was buzzing with reports of deaths from the nearby communes of Anjapaly and Faux Cap. They were told that the bodies were piled one on top of another in a hole in the ground. The family had no money to properly bury their loved ones.
Before arriving to the deep South of Madagascar, I was told it would be hot and dry. Many Malagasy from other areas of the country speak of the South out of fear, referring it to a place with absolutely no water and no food. Upon my initial arrival to the South, I learned that it wasn’t as scary as the stories I heard (there is food and water). But this year’s conditions weren’t typical of the desert conditions the resilient Antandroy people were used to. This year, earning itself a name among the famous famines of Androy, would be remembered as the “Tiomena” famine, noting the perpetual, merciless winds that eradicated the crops.
Here is a brief history of the major famines in Androy, as told to me by my counterpart:
2000: Titled “Bohiritse,” translating to “bulging eyes.” The famine is remembered for the Antandroy people’s red eyes, caused by the intense stress they experienced through their desperate search for food. This year’s famine was caused due to lack of rain.
1991: Remembered as the “Tiomena” for its heavy, strong winds that destroyed the sweet potato fields. This drought is most similar to this year’s conditions.
1986: Known as the “Sentira vy,” or “iron belt” the people figuratively needed to wear around their waists to help fight the hunger.
While famines are considered a way of life in the Androy region, certain years bring more hardship than others. There are many aid organizations currently providing relief efforts for the food emergency, yet not enough. The Androy region, arguably the most underdeveloped region of the country, is often overlooked. This region needs sustainable development in the area of food security and farming techniques suitable for very dry environments. The problems in the deep South of Madagascar are real. I’m just one person, but together we can work together to make a better Androy.