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Climate change-induced drought and water scarcity threatens survival in Madagascar

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Climate change-induced drought and water scarcity threatens survival in Madagascar

Located across the Mozambique Channel from the coast of mainland Africa is Madagascar, the fourth-largest island in the world.

Madagascar, formerly blessed with abundant water, is currently facing drought and water scarcity issues due to a significant shift in its water cycle.

This issue is acutely felt in the highlands, causing the rainy season to become shorter than before, and here’s the bad news: there’s a likelihood of water scarcity increasing in the future.

About 21 billion cubic metres of surface water and 0.106 billion cubic metres of groundwater make up Madagascar’s national water assets while its tailwater is about six billion cubic metres of surface water and 6.6 billion cubic metres of groundwater.

According to a governmental document, annually, Madagascar receives 809 billion cubic metres of rainfall when the surface flow is estimated at 258 billion cubic metres and the stock is 28 billion cubic metres.

The available renewable water resources annual per capita were averaged at 23,057 cubic metres from 2001 to 2013 and were 13,169 cubic metres in 2013, according to the outcome of the World Bank-funded natural capital accounting presented in 2016. Such indices were said to be among the highest in the world.

Madagascar got only about 60% of its usual average rainfall in the last two years, the lowest the country has received in 30 years. The current drought is a result of low rainfall in 2019-2020 and 2020-2021, and now, 2021-2022.

The water scarcity situation is so dire that many people in Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capital, as well as its outskirts, risk their lives daily to access water for their basic needs. Water has become a luxury and in some neighbourhoods, there is a set time when people can access water from wells.

This is because the wells dry up quickly and take hours to replenish themselves. Lateness would imply waiting for the water level to rise again before getting the chance to fetch.

To help the people cope with the drought-induced water scarcity, the Malagasy government, through Jirama, launched cloud seeding operations. However, only some areas in the highlands benefitted from this operation for a few days before the high temperature without rains returned.

The Malagasy people are not folding their arms to the situation. In November 2021, some students at the Antananarivo University campus took to the streets to protest, clashing with the police. Some people on social media also called out Jirama for being unable to deliver quality service as its water was deemed unsafe.

To survive, many people source water in whatever way they can, mostly from unclean water sources. It has become common practice for vehicles to travel away from the city to source water.

With the situation of things in the country, one begins to wonder if the long-term measure objective of the Malagasy government to achieve a 100% drinking water access rate by 2030 against the current 43% would be attainable. Only time will tell.

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