Southern Madagascar is the hottest and driest part of the equatorial island. Formerly known as Toliara province, Southern Madagascar is now made up of four regions - Androy, Anosy, Atsimo-Andrefana and Menabe. Their combined areas encompass approximately 161,405 square kilometres, populated by approximately three million people who live predominantly in rural communities (World Bank, 2016).
Poverty and isolation
Prone to annual drought and food shortages, the deep South of Madagascar remains one of the most fragile areas of the island with more than 82% of the population living below the poverty line and facing an annual three-month hunger gap. Climate change is aggravating soil erosion and deforestation and contributes to the food security challenges in the deep south and to income at household level, also to water supplies.
Faced with extreme drought, local populations are hard pressed to stabilise their livelihoods, nutrition and human capital and rebuild their assets. The vast majority of the extremely poor are rural producers, women and children, who suffer from a lack of infrastructure and little access to healthcare or schools. The lack of road networks and other infrastructure in Southern Madagascar continues to contribute to the isolation of the area, with additional costs to social security and food security (World Bank, 2016).
Education and literacy
44% of children do not attend primary school and approximately 56% of the total southern population is illiterate. This figure is particularly high in the Androy region, which has a literacy rate of just 26.4%. (World Bank, 2016). Girls in particular suffer from being withdrawn from education at an early age.
The dry spiny forest of the south, a priority conservation zone, is host to unique endemic succulents and species that survive on very little water. Deforestation of these forest areas has occurred for many decades, although the pressure of a rising population is now making the impact of these losses more profound. Whilst deforestation in the Deep South decreased from the period 1990-2000 to 2000-2013, the overall rate remains significant, averaging 1% for this whole period (World Bank, 2016). Since the introduction of the plough in the mid-20th Century, in combination with the strong southern winds and deforestation rates, much of the southern landscape has been desertified and the soil rendered infertile, or of such poor quality to limit crop yields.
Food Insecurity and Famine
The Deep South experiences recurrent drought and the population suffers from regular food shortages. In 2016, after three years of sustained drought caused a devastating famine, an estimated 1.14 million people were food insecure, of which 665,500 were severely food insecure. This was equivalent to 80% of the population in 7 of 16 southern districts (World Bank, 2016).
The majority of rural populations in the south are agro-pasturalists engaged in subsistence activities (raising livestock and cultivating maize, manioc and sweet potato). However, across most of the region production is insufficient to assure an adequate food supply and these rainfed crops are at risk due to the irregular climate in the region (World Bank, 2016). Local people in the hardest hit areas will live on raketa mena (prickly pear cactus fruit) for up to, and sometimes more than, three months of the year during an annual hunger gap.
Given the reliance on rain fed agriculture, malnutrition and famine are likely to grow worse during longer and more frequent periods of drought. The effects of climate change are predicted to cause more severe droughts and variable rainfall patterns: seasonal rainfall data shows that the Deep South experienced higher precipitation levels during wet seasons and far lower precipitation during the dry season in the period 2000-2015 compared to 1983-2000, with the trend expected to widen (World Bank, 2016).