Infectious Diseases in Madagascar
Madagascar is an island country off the southeastern coast of Africa. It is famous for its unique climate, vibrant ecosystems and a Disney movie bearing its namesake. However, despite its colorful outward appearance Madagascar is not only a country that has been struggling with the burdens of extreme poverty. It is also a country that has strived to respond to the constant risks of infectious diseases in Madagascar that are rampant throughout its population.

5 Facts About Infectious Diseases in Madagascar

  1. Of the top 10 leading causes of death in Madagascar, four are infectious diseases. Compared to the United States, which only has one infectious disease in its top 10 causes of death, Madagascar’s rate of death due to these largely preventable illnesses is staggering. These four killers are diarrheal diseases, lower respiratory infections, malaria and tuberculosis. Diarrheal diseases and lower respiratory infections, the top two leading causes of death in Madagascar, are not on the lists of countries such as the United States. Easily preventable simply through clean water and relatively basic medical equipment and treatment, these infectious diseases are just one of many lethal circumstances stemming from poverty.
  2. More than 60% of the population of Madagascar lives far from health centers. Additionally, the methods of travel are dangerous and difficult. Underdeveloped and often undermanaged roads and means of travel are when coupled with the scarcity of adequate care, literally a hard road to health. All four of the leading causes of death by infectious diseases are prevalent in Madagascar are preventable and treatable given adequate recovery time, proper equipment, medication and access to proper nutrition. However, if travel is expensive and exhausting those in need will not have the time or resources to spare to travel to one of these remote health care facilities.
  3. Diarrheal diseases are the leading cause of death in Madagascar. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2018, diarrheal diseases were responsible for 10,832 deaths or 7.88% of deaths in Madagascar. These diseases are particularly deadly due to the high rates of malnutrition in the population. Diarrheal diseases are especially draining and resource-heavy upon one’s body and for those without healthy and consistent diets coupled with the lack of potable water and adequate hygiene that may have caused the disease in the first place. Although attention for this issue is very minimal, there are efforts to help the people of Madagascar prevent these diseases through the allocation of health hygiene products and the spread of health information. Project WASH Madagascar provides information to children and adults about the importance of cleaning their hands and drinking clean water. It has been distributing WASH kits that contain additional information as well as cleaning products.
  4. Malaria rates have been steadily climbing since 2009. Deaths due to malaria in Madagascar increased by 7.5%, between 2009 and 2019. The United Nations OCHA reported an increase of malaria cases from 402,385 in 2019 to 663,558 in 2020. This may be partly due to the decrease in incoming aid and available health services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Malaria is an infectious disease that, with the proper resources, is entirely preventable and treatable. However, just as with these other infectious diseases, circumstances from poverty block the road to health and kill thousands.
  5. After a measles outbreak in 2018 – 2019, infection and death rates are almost completely down. Madagascar has been struggling to address these issues even amidst the hectic state of the world. However, it is important to acknowledge the successes that Madagascar has seen through coordination between The Ministry of Public Health and WHO and partners in combating these infectious diseases. The distribution of vaccines led to vaccine information, education and free emergency care to those in critical condition, helping control the outbreak. Between January and April of 2019, 46,187 people became infected with measles and 800 dead during a widespread measles outbreak. Medical science and collective human effort contained the measles outbreak with only 34 cases since January 2020, according to Outbreak News Today.

Looking Ahead

As the world collectively becomes intimately aware of the threats of infectious diseases, especially in cases where there is no supporting health infrastructure, the circumstances of people like those in Madagascar become plainly dire. There are measures to take and aid to disperse that would solve many of these problems. While there is a long way to go, Madagascar continues to work in the hopes of preserving its people and ensuring their safety.

– John J. Lee
Photo: Fickr

Human Trafficking in Madagascar
Human trafficking, a form of unlawful exploitation of others for purpose of work and service, is a tremendous issue in Madagascar. With a Tier 2 ranking in the U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons report for 2021, human trafficking in Madagascar is significant.

The Issue

Though human trafficking is undoubtedly a human rights issue in every place in which it occurs, Madagascar’s economy is exacerbating the issue. With a GDP of $523 per capita (within the bottom 20 countries in the world) and an average poverty rate of about 97.5%, Madagascar is certainly in an extremely impoverished state. Poverty has a tendency to make individuals more susceptible to becoming trafficking victims as they seek work.

Another notable contributing factor is the lack of proper education in Madagascar, which plays a role in child labor. This turns into a vicious cycle; people without a reliable education often end up as trafficking victims.

Sex Trafficking

A significant human rights issue that the world is facing today is the increasing amount of sex trafficking, more specifically involving children. Since children are easier to manipulate, traffickers often see them as the best means of exploitation. In this situation, traffickers lure children, particularly girls, between the ages of 12 and 17, with promises of better employment.

The sex trafficking of children in Madagascar has been an issue for quite some time, but there has been a sudden rise in cases including foreigners. In Madagascar, it is a sign of prestige for a young woman to have sexual relations with a foreigner, thus creating another door into the sex trafficking industry. This has resulted in foreigners, visiting Madagascar for cheap sex trafficking of mostly young women. Though there are more than 700 child-protection networks in Madagascar that have the intention of preventing these cases, not all of them have the resources they need.

Children are not the only victims of this kind of work; there has also been a rise in the trafficking of older women. In this case, traffickers may traffick the women, then murder them for their organs. In other situations, traffickers steal women from their homes before forcing their husbands and children to pay (sometimes up to $3,000) to get them back. Unfortunately, this situation is not improving with time and requires addressing.

Labor Trafficking

Human trafficking in Madagascar is also prevalent in its agriculture industry, with children working in the production of vanilla and other plants. In the entire country of Madagascar, about 22.1% of children between the ages of 5 and 14 work in child labor. In addition to this, Madagascar is one of the most significant exporters of mica sheets, resulting in more than 10,000 children working in dire conditions for food and water.

Human Trafficking During COVID-19

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has impacted Madagascar’s economy. With the country implementing a stay-at-home order, a multitude of jobs in Madagascar underwent termination, thus leaving people looking for work. Along with Madagascar’s poverty, citizens became desperate for work in these drastic times, leading to an increase in human trafficking. In certain cases, parents even had to sell their children to traffickers in order to survive financially. In 2021, child-protection networks assisted 876 children, which is lower than the 1,666 in 2020. Child-protection services in Madagascar, such as UNICEF Madagascar, prevent child trafficking and violence by proposing and establishing legal frameworks which help with keeping children safe in their communities and away from potential traffickers.

Protection and Prevention

Though the results seem insignificant considering the large numbers of trafficked individuals in Madagascar, the authorities do not seem to take the issue as seriously as necessary. The current punishment for human trafficking for labor in Madagascar is a fine of $260 to $2,610 for offenses towards an adult victim, and between five and 10 years imprisonment and a fine of $520 to $5,230 for those towards a child victim. For comparison, the U.S. considers human trafficking slavery, thus resulting in between 20 years and life in prison. These numbers demonstrate the significance of human trafficking in Madagascar and the fact that the country should take it more seriously.

Though the situation of human trafficking in Madagascar is unpleasant, work is occurring to eliminate it. Through the efforts of child-protection networks in Madagascar, including UNICEF Madagascar, child victims of trafficking should continue to receive aid, while implementing legal frameworks to prevent child trafficking going forward.

– Andra Fofuca
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Madagascar
Madagascar, an island enriched with a culture of religious diversity, castes and classes and growing tourism, is the fifth poorest country in the world. In fact, the pandemic has raised Madagascar’s poverty rates from 75% to 78%. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Madagascar has been significant but the country is working to slow the spread of the virus.

Before the Pandemic

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Madagascar was seeing an economic boom with a growth rate of 4.9% in 2019, its highest level in over a decade. The country made such economic progress largely due to an increase in exportation activity. Despite significant improvements, barriers such as inadequate infrastructure, lack of competition in key sectors, poor governance and slow progress in human capital development continued to restrict further economic growth in Madagascar.

During the Pandemic

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Madagascar has restricted global trade and hindered Madagascar’s major industries. This sent the country into a sudden, spiraling recession. Madagascar’s economic progress has faced a sharp decline due to the pandemic. The country is dealing with a GDP deflation of -4.2%. This economic loss is due to unemployment and other poverty-causing factors such as loss in trade and tourism revenue.

From 2017-2019, Madagascar’s unemployment rate was 1.7%. This rate increased to 1.9% in 2020. Madagascar’s current total number of COVID-19 cases is 42,216, far fewer than many other African countries. However, the CDC classifies Madagascar as having very high levels of COVID-19 cases, as cases have been rising recently.

A deeper look at pandemic caused factors that are affecting Madagascar’s economy and increasing poverty rates:

  • Drop-in Exports – Madagascar’s strongly developing mining industry contributed to its economic growth. The country produces about 6% of the world’s nickel, cobalt and ilmenite. Nickel prices have reached an all-time low, causing Madagascar to close its plant and drop exports. The Chinese and U.S. markets, which in sum take in 25% of Malagasy exports, closed during the pandemic as well, limiting Madagascar’s export opportunities. The closure of Chinese and U.S. markets limited Madagascar’s export opportunities.
  • Tourism – More than 45,000 Madagascar residents work directly in the tourism industry. Since the start of 2020, Madagascar has lost about half a billion dollars in tourism revenue. As a result, those who worked in the industry are facing the prospect of poverty. “Overnight, we pretty much had zero tourists,” says Thierry Rajaona, chairman of the Madagascar Business Group, in an interview with Africanews.
  • Containment Measures – Enforced governmental restrictions on movement keep those susceptible to poverty in place. This prevents people from seeking jobs or accessing markets. These precautionary governmental regulations help keep cases under control but contribute to further food and housing insecurities and increased poverty.

The Future

Although the impact of COVID-19 on global poverty in Madagascar continues to be a prevalent problem, getting Madagascar back to a state of economic growth is a reachable goal for a lot of groups. A group of private Magalyze companies holds optimistic goals for the future, expecting Madagascar to achieve a 5% growth rate through the collaboration of public authorities. Rebuilding Madagascar’s economy requires political governmental action to mobilize domestic resources and stimulate Madagascar’s struggling but essential industries.

The World Bank estimates that Madagascar will gradually recover by 2023. During this recovery time, mass testing and contact tracing should help reduce the effects of the pandemic. President Andry Rajoelina made a statement in March 2021 against mass vaccinations, calling for an “herbal remedy.” The World Bank says that a vaccination-centered campaign is necessary to ensure that the country does not experience a resurgence of cases. Vaccination is among the most effective ways to help developing countries recover from the economic, health and social impacts of COVID-19.

As of June 2021, 0.68% of Madagascar’s population has received at least one dose of the vaccine. In early May 2021, Madagascar received its first batch of 250,000 COVID-19 vaccinations because of the global COVAX initiative, which plans to cover vaccines for 20% of Madagascar’s population.

Solutions

UNICEF has been working to combat the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Madagascar through holistic efforts. In May 2021, UNICEF received 200 new oxygen concentrators which Madagascar used to help those suffering from COVID. These oxygen concentrators will help COVID-19 healthcare as healthcare facilities in Madagascar often run out of medical supplies. Additionally, UNICEF is working to rebuild Madagascar through advocacy that addresses malnutrition, healthcare access and poverty. These sectors of advocacy are interconnected as 60% of those living in Madagascar live over 5 km from a healthcare facility and often lack reliable transportation and roads to reach such facilities. Access disproportionately affects those living in poverty and has links to gender and literacy inequalities as well.

The Ministry of Public Health is working with UNICEF to promote public engagement and communication in relation to COVID-19 risks. This includes updating databases and preparation plans to deal with further cases and the next winter period.

Founded in 1999, SEED Madagascar (Sustainable, Environment, Education & Development) is a charity dedicated to addressing Madagascar’s distinct needs through sustainable development. SEED has already reached over 2,380 community members through COVID-19 informational sessions and 16,533 people on proper handwashing demonstrations. The organization has been working to train health workers and school teachers on COVID-19 prevention.

Looking Ahead

Prior to COVID-19, poverty rates in Madagascar were dropping as its economy grew. This growth stunted once the pandemic hit Madagascar’s communities. As the GDP fell, more and more civilians stumbled into poverty because of job loss and health expenses. Various organizations have been partnering with Madagascar’s government to lift people out of poverty and help the country reduce COVID-19 outbreaks and deaths. As trade networks strengthen and the tourism industry picks up again, leaders are hopeful of returning growth to Madagascar’s economy and further reduction of poverty rates.

– Sarah Eichstadt
Photo: Flickr

Humanitarian crisis in MadagascarThree years of drought and a sharp recession caused by COVID-19 have left a third of Southern Madagascar’s population unable to put food on the table. Extreme malnutrition rates are on the rise and many children are having to beg to help families survive. Immediate action is needed to avert this humanitarian crisis in Madagascar.

Food Insecurity and Malnutrition

In southern Madagascar, the situation has been progressively worsening. The number of people needing humanitarian assistance has doubled to 1.3 million due to “famine-like conditions.” The World Food Programme (WFP) stated that successive droughts and a lack of jobs linked to COVID-19 restrictions are to blame. With 300,000 people in need of safe-living support, governments and humanitarian organizations need to act immediately. Weary communities have few resources to fall back on.

Furthermore, many people have had to leave their homes to search for food and job opportunities. Approximately 1.14 million people, or 35% of Madagascar’s population, are food insecure. This figure is nearly double what it was last year due to the second wave of COVID-19. The pandemic resulted in fewer seasonal employment opportunities between January and April 2021, which affected families relying on this form of income.

Children are the most vulnerable to the food crisis. Many children have dropped out of school to beg for food on the streets. By the end of April 2021, more than 135,00 children were estimated to be acutely malnourished in some way, with 27,000 children between the ages of 6 to 59 months suffering from severe acute malnourishment.

Drought Conditions

According to the WFP, Madagascar’s susceptibility to climate shocks is contributing to the ongoing crisis. A WFP official stated that rains usually fall between November and December. However, the entire area only received one day of rain in December 2020. Thunderstorms have also been wreaking havoc on the fields, destroying and burying the crops.

With markets closed because of COVID-19 restrictions and people forced to sell their possessions to survive, the U.N. warned that drought conditions are expected to persist well into 2021. The anticipated conditions are forcing more people to flee their homes in search of food and jobs. WFP South Africa and Indian Ocean State Region Director Lola Castro explained that “the population of the South relies on casual labor and goes to urban areas or to the fields to really have additional funds that will allow them to survive during the lean season.” However, she noted that “this year there was no labor, they moved around without finding any labor anywhere, both in urban areas or in the rural areas, due to the drought and due to the COVID lockdown.”

Humanitarian Aid

Humanitarian organizations delivered assistance across the Grand Sud, the southernmost region of Madagascar, between January and March 2021. Organizations supplied food aid to 700,000 people and improved access to drinking water, sanitation and hygiene for 167,200 people. Furthermore, 93,420 children and pregnant and lactating mothers received dietary care and services. The WFP also provided food assistance to almost 500,000 severely food insecure people in the nine hardest-hit districts in the south. Given the rapidly deteriorating situation, it intends to scale up its assistance to reach almost 900,000 of the most vulnerable by June 2021.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and persistent droughts, the humanitarian crisis in Madagascar is worsening. The country needs more support to fund lifesaving food and cash distributions as well as malnutrition treatment programs. Moving forward, it is essential that the government and humanitarian organizations make addressing the humanitarian crisis in Madagascar a priority.

Aining Liang

Photo: Flickr

Prickly PearThe opuntia, better known as the prickly pear, could be the key to food security in the world’s most arid countries, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). This statement is born from the results of a five-year study conducted by the University of Nevada, Reno. The study sought to examine the potential benefits of cultivating the prickly pear on a mass scale. Many people who live in rural areas consider this cactus to be little more than a formidable and even dangerous weed. It proliferates easily, is difficult to uproot and poses a threat to livestock who can injure themselves and their digestive systems on the sharp spines. However, the FAO believes the benefits can outweigh the downsides. Here is why this international humanitarian organization thinks the prickly pear is fundamental in the fight for food security.

Resistance to Drought and Heat

The study states that the prickly pear requires up to 80% less water than crops such as corn, rice and soy. Additionally, those crops have upper-temperature limits, whereas the prickly pear is able to grow in extreme heat. Africa’s largest country, Algeria, is classified as being around 80% arid or semi-arid, which leaves its population of more than 43 million vulnerable to food insecurity. In 2013, the country formed a cooperative of farmers, scientists and traders to begin cultivating the prickly pear. For this project, they consulted with Mexico, whose people and ancestors have ample experience with the cactus.

The cooperative built its first processing factory in 2015. The factory produces oil that is exported to France, Germany and Qatar. Since then, the enterprise has steadily grown. The cooperative built another factory in 2018 and plans to begin exporting its goods to the United States.

Can be Used as a Biofuel

The primary crops grown for biofuels are corn, sugar cane, soybean and palm oil, which comprise 97% of the biofuel industry. Sugar cane and corn require three to six times more water than the prickly pear, though they produce the same amount of energy. When grown as biofuel, corn, sugar cane, soy and palm oil crops can only be used for that very purpose. In contrast, farmers can first harvest the prickly pear for food before its waste-product is converted into fuel. It’s a circular system versus a linear system. When it comes to the question of the prickly pear as the key to food security, this distinction makes all the difference.

Food for Humans and Livestock

The prickly pear borders on being a superfood. It’s rich in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. It contains antioxidants and is anti-viral and anti-inflammatory. For animals, the plant’s pads, or “nopales,” contain nearly 80% water, making them ideal feed for livestock. It can also be prepared in countless ways, though many people around the globe are unfamiliar with its myriad of uses.

Eritrea, a northeast African country is a prime example of this missed opportunity. Here, they sell the prickly pear on roadsides and in marketplaces alongside more popular fruits such as bananas, guavas and oranges. However, the Eritrean people, who regularly face food shortages, are largely unfamiliar with the number of ways the plant can be consumed. As a result, it has yet to be cultivated on a mass scale. Nearly all of the prickly pears that are brought to market are harvested from wild cacti.

Can Function as a Carbon Sink

One of the strongest arguments for the prickly pear as the key to food security is its function as a “carbon sink.” The fruit grows in areas where other plant life can not be established and then captures excess CO2 from the atmosphere. Cultivated on a mass scale, this could lead to lower temperatures and more rainfall, thus decreasing the number of droughts that threaten food security worldwide.

Challenges and Opportunities Ahead

In 2015, Madagascar faced a drought-induced famine. The lack of rain laid waste to their chief crops, including rice, cassava and sweet potatoes. Desperate for nourishment, many turned to the prickly pear, which was then regarded as a weed. The FAO points to the plant’s usefulness during the direst conditions as proof of the potential benefits of cultivating it on a larger scale. Droughts have continued to plague the people of Madagascar, with approximately one million inhabitants living on the brink of famine. The continued suffering of those living in the world’s most precarious conditions underscores the need for attainable, wholesale solutions. The FAO believes one such solution, agriculture or “green gold,” is well within reach.

– Greg Fortier
Photo: Flickr

Energy Distribution in Madagascar
Groupe Filatex is an energy company in Madagascar that has the goals of renewal, energy distribution and modernization through infrastructure development. The company works in the real estate, duty-free zone, energy and service sectors. Through its innovative projects, Groupe Filatex promotes job creation as Madagascar’s largest employer. It also promotes sustainable growth not only in Madagascar but also across the African continent. The company’s work has made Madagascar Africa’s leading economy in renewable energy.

Projects to Aid Energy Distribution in Madagascar

Approximately 15% of the population has access to electricity with a country-wide generation capacity of 500 megawatts. The company is working to build solar power plants that will provide electricity to four cities with a combined capacity of 50 megawatts. It installed plants in Antsiranana, Mahajanga, Toamasina and Toliara. Groupe Filatex collaborated with DERA Energy, a Canadian power producer focused in Africa and Canadian Solar Inc. to supply the plants.

Along with power producer company Akuo, Groupe Filatex has also announced the first installation of Akuo’s Solar GEM mobile and portable solar units in Tulear. This project falls under the two companies’ collaborative initiative called Enelec. By 2022, expectations have determined that Enelec will have completed projects that would provide an additional 170 megawatts in Madagascar and 110 megawatts in Africa and Europe.

Expanding Energy Distribution Across Africa

Groupe Filatex announced multiple projects that will expand its services to other African countries including Côte D’Ivoire, Guinea and Ghana. The organization planned most projects before COVID-19. This means the projects are still in the works without too many obstacles that may have manifested with the pandemic. The main factor that would delay the projects is the travel restrictions for pandemic precautions. Plans for energy distribution in Guinea and Ghana are currently experiencing delay, although the Guinea project should still start in September 2021.

However, the project in Côte D’Ivoire should begin as soon as May 2021. Groupe Filatex’s project will recompense some of the 8% increase in domestic electricity demand as 1.8 million Ivorian households are without power. Contributing to the national plan to install 424 megawatts of solar power by 2030, Groupe Filatex will provide 66 megawatts of solar power in Côte D’Ivoire.

Other Social Development Initiatives

In addition to its main focus on energy distribution, Groupe Filatex is also a dedicated advocate for social development. The company shows its commitment to better the quality of living in Madagascar by supporting three developmental areas: childhood education, social community and the environment.

  • Childhood Education: Groupe Filatex promotes access to education by working with Malagasy schools to improve educational resources and tools. The company offers assistance in upgrading equipment and training in the classroom to modernize the learning environment. Over 1,300 children currently have enrollment in a renovated school. By providing the necessary support, Groupe Filatex’s efforts help cultivate professional development among young Malagasy.
  • Social Community: The company has started projects for essential living conditions. The projects create and renovate roads, install lighting and bus shelters, facilitate sanitation systems and increase access to drinking water. Groupe Filatex successfully carries out these initiatives with the help of private and public partnerships.
  • Environment: Groupe Filatex has shown commitment to preserving Madagascar’s unique flora and fauna. As described by the company as “natural wealth,” the protection of Madagascar’s ecological heritage makes the company’s development checklist. So far, the company has reported the preservation of 9,895 square meters of green landscape.

Although Madagascar has had limited access to energy in the past, Group Filatex’s efforts to provide the country with renewable energy are proving successful. Moreover, it is having an effect on the country’s communities even beyond improving energy distribution in Madagascar. In fact, it is helping increase children’s access to education and aiding in the building of infrastructure.

Malala Raharisoa Lin
Photo: Flickr

Norway's Foreign Aid
Many countries in Europe regularly distribute foreign aid to developing economies in an effort to contribute to global welfare. Norway’s foreign aid makes up a significant portion of the aid that wealthy nations distribute. It has a long history of emphasizing the importance of foreign aid and continues in this legacy today.

The History

According to a Developmental Assistance Committee review by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Norway’s foreign assistance history dates back to more than 50 years ago. It has been donors to different nations around the world, and its government has most regularly distributed economic aid to countries in Africa and Asia. Norway’s non-governmental organizations (NGOs) play a large role in distributing its foreign aid. As of 2008, 30% of Norway’s development assistance went through NGOs. One of the earliest years of recorded foreign aid in Norway is 1965. In 1965, Norway distributed 8.1 million NOK (~$980,760) in aid to Africa. The top five countries that received aid were Tanzania, Uganda, Madagascar, Kenya and Ethiopia. Also in 1965, Norway earmarked 14.1 million NOK (~$1.7 million) in aid for countries in Asia. The vast majority of that aid went to India and Korea.

Norwegian Foreign Aid today

Norway’s total foreign aid budget for 2021 is $4.1 billion, which amounts to a little more than 1% of its gross national income. Norway distributes its foreign aid in an effort to help with humanitarian, education and economic relief efforts. It has also expressed a willingness to help promote peace around the world. Like many other nations that distribute foreign aid, Norway has emphasized environmental improvements. The government supports expanding clean and renewable energy, as well as forest conservation and agricultural productivity.

Foreign Aid Goals

Norway’s foreign aid focus is on emergency assistance, developmental and economic aid, climate programs, education, food and governance. Although some are easier to meet than others within a certain timeframe, the Norwegian government works to meet each one of these goals. Over the years, Norway has distributed billions of dollars in foreign aid while keeping the focus on the goals listed above. By meeting these goals, the Norwegian government can try to help other nations rebuild economies, improve education and governance.

According to Ine Eriksen Søreide, the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Norway will continue its humanitarian and economic aid efforts in 2021. This will be especially pertinent as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic play out. Since 2013, Norway has increased its humanitarian budget by about 67%. In 2020, it was the sixth-largest donor worldwide. Its special focus on green humanitarian aid is also very important during today’s climate crisis.

In conclusion, Norway is a top distributor of foreign aid every year and an important player in the world’s response to humanitarian crises. It focuses on issues such as economic development, food distribution and education for young people. And especially during the current COVID-19 pandemic, the Norwegian government recognizes the increased need for assistance in developing nations around the world.

– Amina Aden
Photo: Flickr

Smartphones in Madagascar
Madagascar is one of the world’s fifth-largest islands located off the east coast of Africa. Its population consists of more than 22 million people. Many of these people live in rural, impoverished areas. Additionally, many families cannot afford basic needs such as food, shelter or transportation. However, some people have found a way to find work through telecommunication. Here are some examples of how smartphones in Madagascar are bridging the wealth gap.

Madagascar’s Economy

Cell phones are efficient, fast and reliable in times of crisis. Currently, 96% of Americans own a cell phone. Now, villages in Madagascar are benefitting from telephone access as well. Since 2008, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) has been doing business with Zain, a telecommunications company. IFC and Zain launched Village Phone, a campaign that helps bring change to local communities. This campaign creates jobs and promotes entrepreneurship by allowing small companies to sell mobile air time. Moreover, it helps people gain experience in areas like finance, information technology and business.

This knowledge is crucial to sustaining Madagascar’s economic future. The nation’s economy is largely based on agriculture, fishing and tourism. The economy now provides around 74% of the GDP, with 26.2% coming from the agriculture sector alone. The influx of technology will help strengthen Madagascar’s employment by enabling residents to improve in their respective fields.

Literacy Rate

Smartphones in Madagascar are also improving the literacy rate. In 2005, Madagascar’s literacy rate was at 58.4%. Meanwhile, in 2018, it climbed to 74.8%, an immense growth that rarely occurs in reality.

The relationship between growing literacy rates and texting is strong. Texting is a process that involves typing out letters, numbers and composing sentences. Thus, texting helps children gain more exposure to the written word. Greater exposure to the written word has a link to better reading skills.

Improved Education

Smartphones in Madagascar are accelerating the rate at which people receive information. Furthermore, smartphones help promote and improve access to education. Children who learn to read at an early age often become more capable of understanding syntax, grammar and literature. However, COVID-19 has caused many setbacks for students. Many schools closed in March 2020 due to the pandemic. A young mother expressed concern by saying, “It does not make me happy that my children are no longer going to school. Years don’t wait for them. They have already lost a lot.”

Thankfully, alternative options for learning are now available. Radio, television and smartphones are the main pipelines that support distance learning. Most recently, CISCO, a telephone company, and the Ministry of National Education and Technical and Vocational Education (MENETP) have launched a support platform to help with limited internet access to ensure learning continues.

Smartphones in Madagascar have proven to be especially useful for informing people of the COVID-19 infection rate and teaching children to wash their hands properly. Furthermore, this technology is providing hope in creating a more sustainable future for people.

– Nancy Taguiam
Photo: Flickr

Improvements in the Vanilla and Cocoa IndustriesFor generations, the vanilla and cocoa farmers of the world — mostly concentrated in Africa — have been plagued by poverty. But recent trends in each of their respective sectors are starting to change that.

The Vanilla Sector

In the case of vanilla, prices have risen for the past five years to more than 10 times their value for the last several decades. This high market price averages $400-$600 per kilo, where past prices began at $50 per kilo.

Madagascar, responsible for more than 80% of vanilla in the world today, has undergone varying levels of changes as a result. Theft and related protection measures are more prominent as vanilla grows more valuable, but economic changes are also visible. Reporting from NPR suggests that growth in certain towns, like those in the province of Sava, has begun to noticeably outpace areas outside of the heart of the vanilla country. Many formerly-impoverished farmers who could only afford self-grown food can now purchase more than just subsistence diets. Currently, many such farmers are even investing in new homes.

The value of the commodity, as well as the risk of holding it, is partly why vanilla farms are now attracting major investment from external and foreign buyers. These are often big chocolate companies that seek vanilla as a key ingredient. Such buyers are working with nonprofits in the region, such as the Livelihoods Fund for Family Farming. These partnerships serve to build new schools, optimize health care and encourage local cooperatives in order to ensure delicious and sustainable vanilla comes from areas with steady livelihoods. The need for quality investment is not limited to the vanilla sector, however. Vanilla and cocoa both share the limelight in this regard.

The Cocoa Sector

While the cocoa market hasn’t seen the same rise in profitability, measures are well-underway to combat poverty in that sector too. Living Income Differentials (LIDs) are among the more popular initiatives spearheaded by large cocoa buyers, including Ben and Jerry’s. LIDs are payments made in addition to the base price of cocoa in order to accommodate the farmers’ living expenses. The LIDs being paid by Ben and Jerry’s is worth about $600,000.

The Hershey chocolate company has also become one of the largest chocolate sellers to begin supporting LID policies. Despite ongoing criticism for Hershey’s shady dealings on the cocoa market that allegedly promote shortchanged (and possibly child labor), which runs contrary to its verbal support of LIDs.

Regardless, LIDs are only the tip of the iceberg compared to what’s also being suggested by many advocacy groups. These include the World Cocoa Foundation, the Campaign for Fair Chocolate, the Barry Callebaut Group and The Counter, among many others. Although some of these groups have seen setbacks due to the pandemic, some, such as The World Cocoa Foundation, have continued their efforts to connect cocoa farmers with big chocolate manufacturers to strengthen partnerships and common sustainability goals. These priorities have also been reflected in the European Union’s agenda, as proposed legislation considers sustainability and human rights concerns.

Barry Callebault, responsible for one in four chocolate and cocoa products worldwide, still maintains its ambitious goal to lift 500,000 cocoa farmers out of poverty by 2025. Investing and goals like that of the “Forever Chocolate” initiative also aim to combat child labor and climate change.

The Big Picture

While markets for vanilla and cocoa have been volatile, the recent upswing has brought with it renewed interest in returning the abundant profits to those who need it most. The impoverished workers who muster the strength to cultivate the crops and prep them for the market despite living below the poverty line deserve more. The initiative has strength in its broad support, but only time will tell whether the resulting actions will be successful and sustainable.

— Bardia Memar
Photo: Flickr

Madagascar’s PovertyMadagascar, an island country located in the Indian Ocean, is one of the most impoverished countries in the world, with 75% of its population living in poverty in 2019. Due to the country’s insufficient infrastructure, isolated communities and history of political instability, the economy of Madagascar has long been incapacitated and heavily dependent on foreign aid to meet the basic needs of its people, with food being the most urgent. In recent times, Madagascar’s poverty has been further impacted by more crises amid the country’s continued search for economic stability.

The COVID-19 Pandemic

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Madagascar’s economy has drastically worsened and so has Madagascar’s poverty as a result. With an already frail economic climate before COVID-19, the pandemic has negatively affected both the rural and urban areas of Madagascar, as precautionary measures enforced by the government are obstructing the flow of food and job opportunities, further stifling the already impoverished. Movement restrictions, one of many precautionary measures being enforced by the government, have cornered the most poverty-susceptible households to stay in place versus finding labor opportunities through seasonally migrating. Without the freedom to move about and access markets, these rural households are hard-pressed to find food and urban households are feeling the economic effects of this as well.

Drought in Madagascar

About 1.6 million people in southern Madagascar have suffered from food shortages since 2016. The reason for this food shortage: drought. Ejeda is one of many Madagascar villages that finds its villagers trekking miles away from their homes to dig holes into sand beds around rivers in search of water. If water is found, these villagers are then tasked with transporting it miles back home. Three years of recurrent drought in southern Madagascar has almost entirely eradicated farming and crop yields.

Declining Tourism Industry

Tourism in Madagascar is a significant source of annual revenue for the country. Home to lush national parks and scenic beaches, it is estimated that the fallout of COVID-19 has taken away about half a billion dollars of tourism revenue from the country since the pandemic began. Travel restrictions in Madagascar have gradually been eased but the damage has been done as people are simply not traveling unnecessarily during COVID-19. This loss of tourism revenue has been widely felt as it has added to the people’s ongoing struggle with poverty in Madagascar.

Poverty in Madagascar continues to worsen due to COVID-19, drought and the ensuing loss of tourism. With an already feeble economy before these crises, poverty has been intensified in both rural and urban areas as these crises continue to play out.

The Good News

Madagascar’s poverty has increased but there is good news to be found. A dietician and missionary from Poland named Daniel Kasprowicz recently raised 700,000 PLN through an online fundraiser to build a medical facility for malnourished children. Construction on the building has already started, and as poverty is expected to increase throughout Madagascar for the foreseeable future, it is believed that the facility will be opened and treating the malnourished by February 2021. In a time of crucial need, foreign aid means life or death in Madagascar and no act of assistance goes unnoticed.

– Dylan James
Photo: Flickr