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

Doctors for MadagascarMore than 75% of people living in Madagascar are living under conditions of extreme poverty. Disease and natural disasters consistently fall upon the country. Madagascar faces a dangerous lack of proper healthcare provisions and a low number of medical professionals to meet the needs of all its inhabitants. The country does not lack hope of improvement though. Doctors for Madagascar carries out projects to help address the issues that Madagascar faces with appropriate medical care.

Doctors for Madagascar

Doctors for Madagascar (DfM) was founded by German doctors in 2011 after they observed the meager amount of healthcare provisions and trained professionals that were available. Its work is concentrated on providing for one of the country’s most poverty-stricken regions, being the remote south of the island.

This organization allocates immediate aid but it also wants to have a lasting impact and work toward sustainable solutions. Therefore, Doctors for Madagascar monitors its projects in the long-term to be sure that each one is reaching its maximum potential in both service and longevity. In keeping with this idea, the organization creates partnerships with doctors that are local to the south of Madagascar to base its aid on what experts in the community believe to be most necessary.

The Obstacles Madagascar Faces

  • Environmental challenges negatively affect the farming fields and threaten agricultural outputs.
  • Tropical storms have forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate their homes.
  • Hunger affects millions. In 2018, Madagascar ranked number six of nations around the world with the highest rate of malnutrition.
  • Diseases such as measles and plague affect thousands, especially due to low vaccination rates.
  • There is no universal health insurance.
  • Lack of consistent electricity.
  • Maternal health is inadequately meeting the needs of poor mothers and is especially complex during a complicated birth where proper facilities could be hours away from the mother’s village. Those who end up delivering without the assistance of medical professionals depend on the oldest women in the village.
  • Insufficient medical supplies along with difficult working conditions are some of the difficulties being faced within Centres de Santé de Base, which are facilities made of stone that provide healthcare in the countryside of Madagascar. Each one generally contains a nurse, midwife and sometimes a doctor.
  • A lack of trained medical professionals, especially in the south of the island.

 How Doctors for Madagascar Offers a Solution

Doctors for Madagascar does not discriminate against the members of the communities it helps, therefore, the organization takes care of the medical costs for those who cannot afford the treatment they need. Along with covering costs, the organization also provides cost-free maternal healthcare to women. As many women are unlikely to see a doctor throughout their entire pregnancy, DfM provides access to check-ups for women.

Transportation for pregnant women has improved as ambulances are provided and free hotlines have been made accessible for communication between ambulances and Centres de Santé de Base.

DfM builds health facilities and provides construction expertise to help carry out each project. The organization also renovates medical facilities that are necessary to the community’s health, providing medical equipment that is needed in the healthcare facilities and issuing training for its maintenance. Volunteering consists of doctors joining on aid missions. Each doctor that works with the organization must have sufficient experience and have a strong background in the french language to effectively communicate and treat Madagascans as needed. The organization also offers training to local medical professionals by experienced medical professionals that work or volunteer with DfM.

The Onset of COVID-19

As each nation confronts the global COVID-19 pandemic, Madagascar is not facing its first or only crisis. Dengue fever and malaria are killing more people in Madagascar than COVID-19, yet the pandemic is still emphasizing the urgency of improvement needed in medical care and the importance of access to healthcare. In fact, it is even shaping how some of the highest authorities in Madagascar influence this important matter through their advocacy. The Bishops’ Conference of Madagascar (CEM) stated that “The health crisis reveals the importance of an efficient health structure… we believe the time has come to look for ways to improve public health as a whole.”

The Future of Madagascar

The need for medical aid in Madagascar is a pressing issue. Doctors for Madagascar has proven that through awareness, action and understanding, impoverished communities can be helped in both the short and the long term. It is true that the country faces many recurring threats but that does not mean there has been no positive change. These changes can be seen in Madagascar today, which can provide an optimistic outlook on working to reduce poverty in other countries as well.

– Amy Schlagel
Photo: Flickr

Child poverty in Madagascar
Madagascar is among the developing countries experiencing high rates of poverty. Child poverty in Madagascar remains a pressing issue as the living conditions continue to push children into taking on work. Below are a few facts about how child poverty leads to child labor and what initiatives some have taken to eliminate both child labor and child poverty in Madagascar.

Child Poverty Overview

According to the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index 2020 (MPI), estimates have determined that 70.7% of the Malagasy population is living under the national poverty line. Malagasy children under the age of 18 suffer the most from multidimensional poverty.

Also concluded in the MPI 2020 report, of the 75 countries measured, 60 experienced a reduction in multidimensional poverty which includes Madagascar. However, child poverty in Madagascar showed the slowest reduction compared to other age groups in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Child Poverty Normalizes Child Labor

As a consequence of widespread poverty, Malagasy children must work to support their families. With limited access to education and other social services, the families and children have little choice other than work.

As the Bureau of International Labor Affairs reported, 32% of children between the ages of 5 and 17 work in hazardous conditions. The data also indicates that 68.8% of children aged 5 to 14 attend school and 38.8% of children attending school are also working. The three main sectors in which Malagasy children work are agriculture, mining industry and services such as domestic work and market vending.

According to recent studies, many end up working in agriculture or in mining and brick-making. In the U.S. Department of Labor’s 2020 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor, Madagascar goods appear four times including vanilla, sapphire, stone and mica. Mica first emerged on this list in 2020. The U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) estimates that 10,800 children work in mica mining and sorting.

Solutions

In terms of policy and regulation, Madagascar has met all international standards on child labor since 2018. Extensive policies such as the National Action Plan to Eliminate the Worst Forms of Child Labor noted the government efforts. Although this is the case, enforcement of such laws and regulations remains weak. The Madagascar Ministry of Mines expressed that it was aware of the problem but lacked the resources for better regulation.

How the International Community Helps Reduce Child Labor

To counteract the lack of resources and weak enforcement, international organization and governments have implemented social programs addressing child labor in Madagascar and other effects of multidimensional poverty throughout the country.

Some notable programs include the Social Support and Reintegration Centers and the UNICEF Country Program. International organizations like the ILO, UNICEF and the World Bank support these projects.

SAVABE

Powerful countries like the U.S. also hold important roles in some of these projects. For example, USDOL funds a $4 million ILO project called Supporting Sustainable and Child Labor Free Vanilla-Growing Communities in the Sava region (SAVABE). SAVABE aims to reduce child labor in the production of vanilla.

To achieve its objectives, the project works with vanilla exporters to implement anti-child labor policies. In addition, the project trains local authorities to enforce child labor laws and develop a child labor database. The community outreach part of the project creates child protection committees to provide educational services. To improve child poverty in Madagascar, the project also provides vocational training programs targeting 15,000 impoverished households.

According to the 2019 SAVABE Project Interim Evaluation, the vocational programs extended to 9,893 households. The programs had 140 children aged 14 to 17 enrolled. Along with collaboration with local authorities on formulating and enforcing child labor policies, SAVABE also implemented local enforcement training, which had 48 participants in 2018.

The evaluation report concluded that the project had insufficient evidence to indicate improvement in living conditions due to incomplete implementation. However, there are enough indications to show that continued effort and complete implementation can lead to a reduction of child labor in Madagascar.

Looking Ahead

Continued support at the international front is evidently critical to the successful implementation of policy and social projects. For example, the operation and continuation of the SAVABE project depend on U.S. foreign aid which demonstrates the importance of funding to global poverty initiatives. International efforts like SAVABE contribute to protection from child exploitation and ultimately toward total eradication of child poverty in Madagascar.

To ensure the continuation of these projects, email Congress now in support of protection of the International Affairs Budget.

– Malala Raharisoa Lin
Photo: Flickr