An Island Under Threat
Unfortunately, delving a little deeper into this fascinating country exposes extremely worrying ecological and social situations.
Devastating environmental degradation has taken place across most of the island. Alarmingly, Madagascar has lost more than 90% of its original forests since the arrival of humans around 2,000 years ago, with 80% lost in just the last 30 years. The widespread practice of slash-and-burn, to make way for rice fields and cattle grazing, and illegal logging for overseas markets has led to this extensive deforestation. Fittingly, Madagascar has been named the ‘Bleeding Island’ because, when viewed from above, the feeding of rivers inundated with eroded red soil into the sea gives the appearance an island bleeding to death. On top of natural habitat loss, some of the island’s native animals, including lemurs, have been intensively hunted by impoverished people desperate for subsistence. The international pet trade is also having a detrimental impact on Madagascar’s biodiversity, with many reptiles and amphibians, including chameleons and tortoises, targeted. The island’s coastal and marine habitats, including one of the world’s largest coral reef systems along the west coast, are also subject to intense pressures including over-exploitation, climate change, and deforestation-induced sedimentation.
Despite a wealth of natural resources, Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world (ranked 5th in 2015). Between the 1970s and 1990s, per capita income decreased by 40% alongside rapid a doubling of the population. Approximately, 92% of the population now live on less than $2 USD per day. While agriculture employs up to 80% of the country’s workforce, the country does not grow enough food to feed its population. The standard of living among the Malagasy population has subsequently dramatically declined over the last few decades. Furthermore, Madagascar is among the top ten countries most vulnerable to natural disasters including extreme drought, cyclones, and locust plagues, with the rural poor particularly susceptible to the devastating impacts these events have on food security and living conditions.