Southern Madagascar Hit Hard by Severe Drought and Toxic Spill

While the political direction of Madagascar remains mired in total uncertainty since the coup d'etat in March, in Addis Ababa, the international community is again trying to mediate an agreement between the various political movements. The president of the African Union and one of the mediators present in Addis Ababa, Jean Ping, opened the meeting by stating:

“The reality as you know it on the ground in Madagascar is characterized by fatigue that is felt by the people of Madagascar, people who are hoping the crisis will come to an end. A crisis to which, after all, they are the hostages. Whereas the socio-economic situation in your country is getting worse day by day. The people of Madagascar deserve better destiny and that depends completely on you”

This sentiment seems to be shared by a large portion of the blogosphere who focused their attention on the other challenges affecting Madagascar. Several provinces are currently plagued by the cumulative disastrous effects of a severe drought, the toxic spill of a ship wreck that poisoned the livelihood of thousands of fishermen and the ecological disaster of illegal logging of the rain forests.
(Update: A power sharing agreement was signed by the 4 political movements over the week-end (BBC) where Madagascar will be led by 3 co-presidents. More analysis can be found on this political breakthrough on Reuters and Madagascar Tribune (fr) )

The ecological scandal of the Gulser Ana toxic spill

The Gulser Ana was a Turkish freighter transporting Phosphate that sunk off the coast of Madagascar, spilling toxic waste in the process and killing migrating whales and causing illness among the fishermen community. Although the disaster has been reported in a few media recently, the ship started to sink two months ago as Malagasy bloggers signaled on their blogs back in early September.
Tomavana wrote on his blog (fr):

En plus d’écarter le drame écologique du Sud de l’île des actualités nationales, la controverse politique autour de ces nouvelles nominations pose la question du suivi de ce dossier sensible

The political drama not only steers the focus away from this tragic event but it makes one wonder who will be accountable for following up and taking charge of the issue.

Joan asks simply: “Have you heard of the Gulser Ana ?”. In the comment section, Capt Collin Smith explores the possible causes of the grounding:

The only explanation which can exculpate the Captain and Officer of the Watch of this vessel is mechanical breakdown. Anything else is human error, and therefore incompetence, if not recklessness. How can a ship go aground in perfect visibility if the OOW and Captain are paying attention and properly trained? [..] Another practice to save money. The Captain and OOW should have been arrested when they got ashore, and held.

Mialisoa reports on her blog that (fr):

les habitants « souffrent de problèmes respiratoires, et de maladies cutanées et diarrhéiques ». Car non seulement ces personnes ont été exposées aux déchets toxiques, mais le nettoyage des zones polluées s’est fait sans vêtements de protection et sans équipements adéquats

The locals suffer from respiratory problems, skin diseases and diarrhea. Not only were the people exposed to toxic waste but the clean up was also performed without adequate equipments and protective gears

The lack of report early on in the media prompted this reaction from Tomavana on twitter:

“@fanjakely j'ai l'impression que les habitants Sud #Madagascar sont des malgaches de 2nde zone. J'entends nos beaux discours mais nous sommes pas #Solidaire”

“@fanajkely I have the impression that the people from the South of Madagascar are considered 2nd class Malagasy citizens. I hear a lot of nice speeches but we are not showing solidarity”
Ship wreck via

Ship wreck via

Unfortunately that was not the only source of worry in the region.

Severe drought

Rain has been very scarce in the Southern region. According to the Guardian, the unseasonal dry weather caused by climate change (10% increase in temperature) has prompted a severe drought and warning signs of famine for the past six months. Tovoheryzo Raobi Jaona explains how climate change has affected the south (fr):

“Avant, il y avait une sécheresse tous les dix ans. Or, depuis 2000, il y en a eu quatre”

“Before, a drought was observed every 10 years. Since 2000, there has been 4″

Féroce Remanongona, an elected official goes further as to say (fr):

Nous prions le Grand Dieu que le cyclone passe chez nous. Même s’il détruit nos maisons, c’est mieux que subir la sécheresse

We pray God that a cyclone comes our way. Even if it destroys our homes, it's better than facing the drought

This is a powerful statement when one recalls how the recent cyclone devastated the majority of the region.

The Panos Insitute recently published a series called “Pushed to the Edge” about the effect of climate change on the Malagasy population in the Southern region. Here is a testimony from the report by Bruno:

I noticed that the weather had changed from our usual predictions, and the rainy seasons were starting very late… Not only was rice production affected, but also sweet potatoes and cassava. It was getting hotter and hotter, which made planting cassava challenging… When I harvested it, I discovered that the roots had become smaller, compared to my previous harvest. In terms of rice, I used to collect three to four large baskets and now I can harvest only one small basket. The change is so obvious that it makes me ask the question, “What is happening to the climate?”

A recent academic paper for the American Political Science Association by Richard Marcus illustrates the challenges of water resource management in the Ambovombe-Androy region. The paper states that

“Rural communities are suddenly faced with having to pay exorbitant costs for water. They are ill-prepared to carry out their municipal functions and unable to raise the level of user-fees or community taxes necessary to fund infrastructure development”

Stephane, a blogger from Foko Madagascar attended the UN conference on climate change in September and blogged about the challenges facing developing countries like Madagascar.

Finally, a resolution to condemn the plundering of natural resources in Madagascar has been introduced by Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) at the House of Representatives. Illegal logging of precious woods from the rain forest has been increasing with the political turmoil. Courier International and l'Express de Madagascar also reveals that the government allowed for exportation of precious rosewood in late September (fr). More details on the illegal logging of the rain forest are available here (fr) .


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