Death without echoes in Madagascar

Madagascar has long been part of France. Now independent, the island faces a dramatic famine, directly linked to the population explosion and global warming. However, a few NGOs like Zahana try to improve the critical situation as they did in the North-East,in the High Matsiatra’s region of Madagascar: Fiadanana.
Death without echoes in Madagascar
A woman and her children in her village, by Courrier International

Madagascar has long been part of France. Now independent, the island faces a dramatic famine, directly linked to the population explosion and global warming. However, a few NGOs like Zahana try to improve the critical situation as they did in the North-East,in the High Matsiatra’s region of Madagascar: Fiadanana.

Some historical context

The Republic of Madagascar is an island country located in the Indian Ocean and geographically related to the African continent. It is the fifth greatest island after Australia, Greenland, New-Guinea and Borneo. Its inhabitants, the Malagasy, are Austronesian people, speaking a Malayo-Polynesian language: the Malagasy language. After the French protectorate due to the first French expedition in 1881, Madagascar was annexed and would only gain independence in 1960.

Food emergency

A few years ago, Madagascar was covered by a lush forest. The deforestation caused by needs of coal for cooking and as fuel, had serious consequences on the Malagasy’s way of living. Since 2011, the South of Madagascar suffers from a severe drought. This chronic drought, also called « the hunger » in Madagascar, strikes one million inhabitants on the island. Because of the crop’s destruction caused by the drought, the inhabitants are forced to restrict themselves eating tubers, larvae, and locusts. Fortunately, in some regions, the World Food Programme (WFP) distributes feed rations to prevent infant malnutrition. Thanks to special flour like maize flour, women are capable to cook a mash made of legumes, flour and water. They can mix the ingredients in plastic cups and serve it to children, who are most at risk of starvation and serious health problems related to malnutrition.

An explosion of crime

There exist a number of factors which make health care and humanitarian aid on the island difficult, and which partially explain the lack of a wide-reaching programme. For one, crime has exploded in Madagascar in recent years. The Dahalo are the origin of this criminality. Translated to « cattle thieves », the Dahalo are bandits who spread fear and terror across Madagascar. Coming from a parallel and illegal economy, the Dahalo travel the island with their animals. They tend to move at night and conceal themselves during the day. Health care and humanitarian aid distributions are their particular target. The inhabitants are incapable to go back home without being robbed. The State only provides 7% of its budget for health care, against the recommendation of 12% of the African countries’ union. Because of the threats caused by this rural banditry, two health centres closed in the region. When they attack villages, the Dahalo take the cattle, the goats, the cauldrons, and the rations by force. The inhabitants must run to the forest to find a shelter and stay alive.

The failure to prevent crime

In order to protect the distributions, military brigades (USSAD) can be sent to prevent attacks. When the USSAD patrols in the village, the inhabitants can work in the fields and sleep peaceful. Sadly, the numbers in law enforcement are limited. The USSAD and the 225 police officers did not succeed halt attacks. According to them, the system protects the Dahalo, and the politicians conspire to release them from prison. Sometimes, members of the Dahalo become part of the administration and government institutions.

Education as solution

According to Zahana, a NGO which contributed to the construction of the first school of the village of Fiadanana, « educate to form » would be the only answer to this misery and this criminality. Receptive to the environment’s preservation which was battered for years, it sensitises children to nature’s protection. Thus, the school curriculum plans the plantation of 15 000 trees (5 per child). The school’s garden is the only local oasis. Plenty of fruits and vegetables’s varieties are cultivated there, as mango and avocado. As an eco-friendly gesture, the NGO teaches to villagers how to create bio coal made of rice’s rests and dry grasses, instead of wood coal. It is easily convertible into granules thanks to clay used as a binder and creates sufficient heat. Zahana members also teaches to Fiadanana’s villagers how to create clay furnaces, which avoid the fire stop burning. However, Madagascar is too poor to provide school to all of its children.  

A better hygiene reducing the child mortality rate

Marcus Fiadle and the Doctor Yanta who are Americans and met during their studies in Hawaii, created Zahana as they were very concerned by human beings. The NGO’s activity is financed by different private donors around the world. Fiadle is in charge of the research of the donors and has the difficult task to rally them to their cause. However, there are the villagers who built the school by themselves and who are in charge of its maintenance. Since 2006, the school’s piping system rejoins 6 drinking water sources. This hygiene’s improvement decreased the high level of infant death caused by the germs in the muddy water they drank. Similarly, no children suffer from starvation since village members are in charge of the canteen. Children also learn how to cook by observing them, in order to know how to survive alone. 

Moreover, as previously mentioned, the majority of children does not have the chance to access to education. The lack of financial means dedicated to Health by the State exacerbates the harsh situation. The lack of medical equipment is undeniable. Indeed, the number of stillborn babies is 10 times higher than in Europe. This is why the population asks its president Andry Rajoelina for help in order to implement a real fight against corruption and starvation at the national level. 

Then, there is still a chance for the inhabitants to see an improvement of their way of living. The government let construction’s road machines at the disposition of the population to solve the problem of the inaccessibility of certain zones. Moreover, the authorities asked private partners for help to resolve the problematic lack of water thanks to desalination stations. Finally, seeds are more and more used to support farming and allow children to avoid malnutrition.

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