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Madagascar Is on the Brink of Famine Caused by Climate Change, With Children Most at Risk

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Madagascar is on a frontline where there are no bullets being fired, no mortars being launched and no bombs being dropped. But its people are helplessly trapped in the centre of a war where the results are just as devastating.

Our Sky News team managed to get inside the country despite it still being cut off from the outside world because of coronavirus restrictions, to see the devastating effects of a prolonged drought.

We saw babies slowly dying from hunger while their mothers, weakened from lack of food themselves, pleaded for help.

We listened as village elders begged for assistance from the outside world as the community’s toddlers were reduced to eating cactus flowers. We walked along dry riverbeds which went on for miles and miles, where villagers were digging holes trying to reach water to drink.

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People have been reduced to eating cactus flowers

And everywhere, everywhere we went, we were confronted by adults and children, old and young, with their hands outstretched, hoping for anything which would help them survive another day.

The people of this stunningly beautiful Indian Ocean island are being starved and tortured – primarily, according to the United Nations, by the effects of climate change which is not of their making.

The UN has said the world’s fourth-largest island is on the brink of famine – and is likely to go down in history as the first brought on by extreme and unusual weather patterns. And this, suffered by a country not at war or in conflict but in peacetime and with virtually zero carbon emissions.

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The prolonged drought has been devastating for the country

Famine is a challenging legal term with often contested international parameters. But whether famine in Madagascar is legally classified or not is a moot point to the Malagasy, the bulk of whom are living below the poverty line and earning less than two dollars a day.

Most will go to bed hungry tonight. Most will not know where they will get their next meal when they wake up. Most parents will not be able to feed all their children – and some will not be able to provide for any of them.

Madagascar’s environmental challenges are enormous and mounting

The island has not only suffered the effects of an extended dry period with the worst drought in forty years – but it is subjected to multiple extreme weather patterns including several yearly cyclones, vicious winds and dust storms, known as tiomenas, which have buried villages and forced people to flee.

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Babies are weighed

The unpredictable and unusual weather has caused severe hardship to most of the population with more than a million deemed by aid agencies to be in “high acute food insecurity”.

The country, which is one of the most bio-diverse in the world, is now suffering from what Oxfam has called a “hunger pandemic”.

We visited the Monja Jaona hospital in Ambovombe, the principal medical centre in the Androy Region in the south of Madagascar.

We saw a tiny baby called Malalaza, so weak with hunger and illness, she doesn’t have the strength to cry.

As the nurse prods her extended stomach, all she can muster are breathy moans of protest. She is a year and two months old – a time when healthy babies will be walking and attempting their first words.

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Babies like Malalaza are paying a very high price for the actions of those in far richer countries.

But Malalaza’s weight has plummeted in the last few weeks and she can’t even hold her head up. She can’t sit up. She can’t hold a spoon to her lips. She’s finding it difficult to do anything. Poor nutrition and a lack of food has left her open to illness and she’s contracted tuberculosis.

“The prognosis for her is extremely serious,” Rivo Razafison, the chief nutritionist from UNICEF tells us.

He believes many of the sick children he sees are hospitalised basically because of hunger which leaves them weak and prone to disease. The drought the country has been enduring has led to new levels of suffering amongst Madagascar’s poor.

It has meant water is hard to find and that has a knock-on catastrophic effect. It’s led to crops failing, even worse sanitation, more disease, increased poverty and higher levels of hunger and fear about how and where to find enough to eat.

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More than 100,000 children are facing severe malnutrition

The global coronavirus pandemic hit when Madagascar was already in the midst of a tough drought. It meant the country had to close down and the tourism industry which was the island’s main source of hard currency, helping provide jobs and incomes, suddenly dried up.

The country is due to slowly open up to outsiders in November but so far, flights carrying those precious tourists have yet to start.

Even so, for more than a million people, rain at this late stage, as well as opening up the country to tourists again, may not be enough to halt their suffering and Malalaza may become one of the country’s climate change victims.

Malalaza’s mother Hopuso has five other children who she is caring for on her own. She has to walk at least ten kilometres a day to fetch water for her family and she tries to make money to buy food by chopping wood and making charcoal.

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Only 15% of the country has access to electricity

“Seeing how hard her life is, and all the physical work she has to do, perhaps this is what brought on the state of the child,” Rivo Razafison tells us.

Malalaza is a fraction of the size she should be at her age and weighs under five kilograms.

A good ten minutes or so is spent checking the medical notes to confirm her age because neither the medical workers nor us can believe how small she is. No one looking at her tiny frame believes anything other than Malalaza’s time on this earth is unlikely to continue for very much longer – despite the health workers’ best efforts.

Across the road from the hospital, UNICEF is running a health centre that is inundated with mothers and their babies who survive simply because of the food and medical aid being provided. There is a bedraggled crowd outside the tent where anxious mothers are waiting to have their babies weighed. There are heart-stopping moments as the dial on the hanging scale pinpoints whether the baby’s weight has gone up, down or stayed the same.

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Anxious mothers wait to have their babies weighed

Dying from hunger is a slow, and agonising death – but far too many people of Madagascar are going through just that right now.

Ten-month-old Soja Franco lost weight the week before but there’s a small moment of celebration as the scales tip in her favour this week. But the size of her arms still measures in the red. Small weight gain is a positive but it doesn’t mean these children are out of the danger zone.

Rivo Razafison is a Malagasy who has worked in the southern region for nearly two decades.

“In all the time I’ve been here, the worst year for drought was last year,” he says.

“And this year will get even worse according to the forecasts.”

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Rivo Razafison has worked in the southern region for nearly two decades

The trouble for the Malagasy is even if the drought lifts, even if there is average rainfall, a lot of the deep problems caused by the extended dry period have set in train multiple challenges from which it is going to be very difficult to recover.

Many people we spoke to had lost the ability to grow food to eat and were now turning to chopping down trees to make charcoal to sell. Because only 15% of the country have access to electricity, many rely on charcoal for fuel for cooking anyway – and now they’re grabbing at that as a source of income.

Many we spoke to admitted they knew this would add to the environmental problems: “But we have no choice”, is the constant refrain.

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The UN said it is the fourth-largest island on the brink of famine

The island has seen about 40% of its forests disappear since the 1950s.

It is a truly alarming statistic in a country renowned for its beauty and unique ecosystem, where most of its mammals and plants exist nowhere else on the planet.

There are governmental efforts to try to stem the decline. There are numerous fresh tree plantations to try to halt the massive soil erosion. But it all feels very small fry in the face of mounting odds against.

True, it’s not solely climate change to blame but it is a massive and almost certainly the main factor.

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Most have turned to chopping down trees to make charcoal

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The island has seen about 40% of its forests disappear since the 1950s

The aid agencies complain about decades of poor governance and there have been bouts of political instability in the country since independence from the French colonisers in 1960.

However, the most recent presidential elections were held peacefully with Andry Rajoelina elected, after first coming to power in a coup in 2009.

Recently the government arrested scores of people accused of attempting to assassinate President Rajoelina, including former soldiers and military personnel. The president’s office dismissed this as the work of a mentally-deranged individual and not symptomatic of widespread political instability.

But the pandemic has been catastrophic for the island.

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Before COVID, the World Bank forecast a GDP growth of 5.2%. Instead, it shrank by 4.2% while the population continues to rise by nearly 3% each year. Almost everyone we spoke to had large families. One father we met had 16 children.

“Every child is a blessing from God,” one mother told us.

A blessing but also another mouth to feed when there’s little food to go around. The price of rice has shot up and the country’s recent harvest of the staple cassava has shrunk by nearly 90% in some areas.

But Madagascar’s contribution to the world’s natural riches are enormous and cannot be understated. There are more than a hundred species of lemur for example – all living only in Madagascar. They are currently considered the world’s most endangered mammals.

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A small moment of celebration when the scales tip the right way

Few Malagasy will be looking at what’s going on in Glasgow this fortnight. Few will be able to, perhaps fewer believe whatever happens there will have any significant impact on their lives. The population here isn’t contributing to the carbon emissions which are blamed for creating climate change but those living here are at the sharp end of its effects.

And babies like Malalaza are paying a very high price for the actions of those in far richer countries.

Alex Crawford reports from the Grand Sud in southern Madagascar with cameraman Kevin Sheppard, and producers Chris Cunningham and Mark Grant

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Original Article: news.sky.com

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A Historic Night for Barbados and the Role of the Royal Family

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The crowds were strictly restricted due to the COVID pandemic, and despite the efforts and enthusiasm of the bands and dancers the atmosphere seemed muted in National Heroes Square, once known as Trafalgar Square.

But as the ceremonial events got under way the significance was striking, a historic night for Barbados and the role of the Royal Family.

There was a series of symbolic moments: the Prince of Wales closing almost 400 years of royal history inspecting one last military march past; the standard lowered for the final time; and the new president, Dame Sandra Mason, stepping forward to take her new role just seconds after the clock struck midnight.

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Rihanna ‘national hero’ of Barbados

Barbados had made that final step out on its own, now a republic.

In the distance you could hear the crowds clapping as the president entered the square.

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There were a few cheers for Prince Charles as his car swept past them, but the loudest cheer was for Barbados’s biggest star Rihanna, as she tried to make a subtle appearance during the middle of the proceedings.

And with the cheering and the fireworks lighting up the sky you could be led to believe this was a moment of celebration for all Barbadians.

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Yes, independence day always brings parties, but the move to a republic isn’t without controversy.

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‘Atrocity of slavery forever stains our history’

There was no referendum about it, and in the crowds it wasn’t difficult to find those who thought they should have had their say, others who don’t understand what this new status means for them, as well as those who for decades have fought to cut the colonial ties.

While it will remain a member of the Commonwealth, now it will be up to Prime Minister Mia Mottley to more forcefully take Barbados to the world stage, hammer home the need for greater support on the matters of COVID and the climate crisis.

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President Sandra Mason, singer Rihanna and Prince Charles during the transition ceremony

This is not a completely fresh slate, there are still matters around reparations and the legacy of the slave trade to deal with.

Prince Charles at least acknowledging the appalling ways hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans were treated, going some would say further formally in his comments than any other member of his family in the past.

He too reiterated that message that this is a new chapter for Barbados. And it was encouraging to see that at the helm a female prime minister and a female president are now helping to write that future.

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Rihanna Declared a ‘national Hero’ As Barbados Celebrates Becoming a Republic

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Barbadian singer and businesswoman Rihanna has been declared a national hero by the country’s prime minister.

The 33-year-old was awarded the honour by Mia Mottley during an event to celebrate the island nation becoming a republic.

“On behalf of a grateful nation, but an even prouder people, we therefore present to you the designee for national hero for Barbados, ambassador Robyn Rihanna Fenty,” the PM said to a jubilant crowd in the capital, Bridgetown.

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The singer was awarded the honour as the Caribbean island celebrated becoming a republic

“May you continue to shine like a diamond and bring honour to your nation by your works, by your actions.”

Rihanna was born in Saint Michael and raised in Bridgetown, before moving to the United States after she was discovered by New York-based music producer Evan Rogers.

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She has since gone on to become one of the biggest artists in the world, as well as starring in movies including Battleship and Ocean’s 8, and launching her own fashion brand, Fenty, in 2018.

Since 2018, Rihanna has had the honorary title of Ambassador for Culture and Youth in Barbados.

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In 2008, former prime minister David Thompson declared 22 February “Rihanna Day” – and although it is not a bank holiday, Barbadians celebrate it every year.

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Prince Charles was invited to speak at the transition ceremony

The latest honour was awarded to the star from her homeland as it celebrated becoming a republic – 55 years after gaining independence from the UK.

In a message to the people of the Caribbean island, the Queen sent her “good wishes for your happiness, peace and prosperity in the future” and emphasised the importance of the “continuation of the friendship” with the UK as she ceased to be their monarch.

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Rihanna joined the ceremony in Bridgetown

Prince Charles was invited to speak at the transition ceremony formalising the move.

Speaking in front of a crowd in National Heroes Square in Bridgetown, once known as Trafalgar Square, he said: “From the darkest days of our past, and the appalling atrocity of slavery, which forever stains our histories, the people of this island forged their path with extraordinary fortitude.

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There was singing and dancing during the celebrations

“Emancipation, self-government and independence were your way-points. Freedom, justice and self-determination have been your guides.”

Dame Sandra Mason was sworn in as the island’s first-ever president.

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Prince Charles Acknowledges ‘appalling’ History of Slavery As Barbados Becomes a Republic

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The Prince of Wales has formally acknowledged “the appalling atrocity of slavery” in the Caribbean, saying “it forever stains our history” at an event to mark Barbados becoming a republic.

Prince Charles was invited to speak at the transition ceremony formalising the Caribbean island’s decision to remove the Queen as its head of state.

Speaking in front of a crowd in National Heroes Square in Bridgetown, once known as Trafalgar Square, he said: “From the darkest days of our past, and the appalling atrocity of slavery, which forever stains our histories, the people of this island forged their path with extraordinary fortitude.

“Emancipation, self-government and independence were your way-points. Freedom, justice and self-determination have been your guides.”

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Prince Charles celebrated the UK’s relationship with Barbados in his speech

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Performers provide entertainment as part of the Presidential Inauguration Ceremony in Bridgetown

A 21-gun salute was fired just after midnight when the nation officially became a republic, marking a new chapter in the nation’s history.

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The prince, who described how “the creation of this republic offers a new beginning”, watched as the Queen’s standard was lowered for the final time.

He described how he felt “deeply touched” to be invited to the event, held on the nation’s 55th anniversary of independence from Britain, and spoke of his great personal respect for the people of Barbados.

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He added: “Tonight you write the next chapter of your nation’s story, adding to the treasury of past achievement, collective enterprise and personal courage which already fill its pages.

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Members of the Barbados armed forces carry the presidential colours

A new chapter

“The creation of this republic offers a new beginning, but it also marks a point on a continuum – a milestone on the long road you have not only travelled but which you have built.”

In a message to the people of the Caribbean island, the Queen sent her “good wishes for your happiness, peace and prosperity in the future” and emphasised the importance of the “continuation of the friendship” with the UK as she ceased to be their monarch.

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Rihanna ‘national hero’ of Barbados

Barbados’ decision to remove the Queen as head of state will be watched closely by other members of the Commonwealth, especially in the Caribbean region.

Prince Charles’ speech referenced the UK’s close relationship with Barbados and a continuing partnership between the two nations.

“As your constitutional status changes, it was important to me that I should join you to reaffirm those things which do not change,” Prince Charles said.

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Dame Sandra Mason is now president of Barbados

“For example, the close and trusted partnership between Barbados and the United Kingdom as vital members of the Commonwealth; our common determination to defend the values we both cherish and to pursue the goals we share; and the myriad connections between the people of our countries – through which flow admiration and affection, co-operation and opportunity – strengthening and enriching us all.”

After a dazzling display of Barbadian dance and music, Sandra Mason was sworn in as Barbados’ first ever president.

Prime Minister Mia Mottley, the leader of Barbados’ republican movement, helped lead the ceremony.

Barbadian singer Rihanna also attended the event and was declared a national hero.

“May you continue to shine like a diamond and bring honour to your nation by your works, by your actions,” Ms Mottley told Rihanna, a reference to her 2012 chart-topping single Diamonds.

The transition ceremony was watched in-person by a large crowd, and broadcast online and on screens across the island.

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Source: news.sky.com

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