Madagascar and the social impacts of drought

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Open air cattle market in Southern Madagascar Open air cattle market in Southern Madagascar

Between 2018 and 2022, Southern Madagascar experienced a prolonged drought as rainfall became scarcer amid a changing climate. Food security was devastated and widespread hunger ensued to reach near-famine proportions. The impoverishment and health impacts of malnutrition and stunting caused by these lean years will be felt for years to come. 

Drought takes a toll on social relationships.  The strain of losing access to water, watching crops die, losing livelihoods and seeing family members go hungry can lead to social stress within households and communities, and give rise to violence and conflict. Although the economic, health and environmental impacts of drought have been widely studied, the social impacts of drought remain largely overlooked. 

"In 2020, the World Bank teamed up with researchers at the Global Studies Institute, California State University, and put in place a monitoring system to track the social impacts of the drought in Southern Madagascar."

In 2020, the World Bank teamed up with researchers at the Global Studies Institute, California State University, and put in place a monitoring system to track the social impacts of the drought in Southern Madagascar. Every four months, a representative panel of 480 respondents was asked to reflect on the impacts of the drought and how various social dynamics were faring. Respondents identified the drought as causing the following particular stresses: lack of access to water and food, increased food prices, increased poverty and pressure on livelihoods. 

Aerial view of a dry river in Southern Madagascar.
Dry river in Southern Madagascar. Photo: Tangala Mamy/World Bank

This monitoring system revealed important social trends during the drought and recovery period in Southern Madagascar. Here are three key trends uncovered by the survey: 

1) Drought has resulted in a perceived increase in rates of violence against women.

Even before the drought, life in Southern Madagascar was particularly hard for women. Regions in the south already had the highest rates of violence against women and girls, particularly concerning sexual violence, with 16% of women and girls reporting violence compared to the national average of 7%. Cultural norms and beliefs about gender, along with ambiguous and weak laws about violence, contributed to the issue. 

But the drought only made things worse. As domestic tasks like fetching water and preparing meals, traditionally seen as women’s responsibilities, became more difficult to achieve, women faced the risk of violent repercussions from male household members.  At its peak, 47% of the survey respondents reported worsening violence against women. The survey also showed that women were actively trying to mitigate the impact of food insecurity on their families by being the first to cut their food intake to ensure their children were fed. 

2) Communal violence including theft and cattle raiding rose during the drought. 

Low-level community conflict has been long persistent in Southern Madgascar. Cattle raiding in the region is driven by organised groups, but at a local level  attracts young men seeking income. Survey respondents linked the increased hunger and poverty during the drought to a rise in opportunistic cattle raiding, as well as other acts of harm such as theft, kidnapping and murder as people tried to access income through any means possible.

3) The prolonged drought intensified migration.

Moving was a last resort only pursued when other household coping mechanisms failed, such as seeking alternative sources of income, changing food consumption, or selling household goods. The survey showed that migration patterns within and outside of the region intensified during the drought and often did not provide hoped-for new opportunities.  Women migrants, for example, faced a heightened risk of gender-based violence, including human trafficking and other forms of discrimination. 

These social consequences of the drought in Madagascar pushed already poor people into deeper vulnerability and exclusion, making their pathway out of poverty and towards sustainable development even harder. The World Bank is working with the Government of Madagascar to bring a holistic perspective by considering the social consequences in its response in Southern Madagascar. The Bank is studying how to track and capture all the social impacts of the drought, alongside ongoing initiatives to bolster food security, restart household agriculture, improve drought resilience and water resource management.  We are looking for solutions that can help foster support and stabilize communities after a time of great social upheaval. The data suggest that a full recovery for Southern Madagascar will only be complete once the social impacts of the disaster have been addressed.


Joanna de Berry

Senior Social Development Specialist, Eastern and Southern Africa Region, World Bank

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