The coup in Madagascar
in early 2009 not only politically destabilized the country, but also damaged its ability to protect its unique environment. A hotspot of biodiversity
, Madagascar is the home of many species that exist nowhere else in the world.
Deposed president Marc Ravalomanana, while criticized
for prioritizing business interests, was a proponent of environmental conservation
who leveraged the natural wealth of his country to promote sustainable development
The coup caused donors to withdraw aid to the country; destroyed the tourism industry, and changed the priorities of the country’s leadership. The new government, led by President Andry Rajoelina, has failed to help—and has possibly harmed–Madagascar’s rich ecosystem.
Shortly after the coup, the United States suspended all non-humanitarian aid to Madagascar, including aid targeted at conservation efforts. The World Bank and the African Union also cut aid to the country.
Without international aid—which provides 90 percent of the funding for conservation, according to MongaBay—parks and endangered species cannot be preserved and protected. Conservation International documented reports of endangered lemurs being slaughtered and sold for bushmeat by poachers.
Funding for USAID’s integrated population-health-environment programs, which seek to improve health and reduce population pressures in remote communities near protected areas, was also suspended. Prior to the coup such programs were heralded largely as a success.
Instability has also made Madagascar an unattractive vacation destination. The tourism industry – much of it eco-tourism – has taken a massive economic hit, losing 12 percent of its value in 2009 and depriving some communities of a major source of support. The drop in tourist visits to the country’s national parks has “a big impact on the economics of the villages as 50 percent of the park entrance fees are used for village conservation and development projects,” the manager of the Ranomafana National Park told MongaBay’s Rhett Butler earlier this year.
While Ravalomanana tripled the area of protected lands in Madagascar during his tenure as president, he also made several unpopular decisions leading to rising food costs and unrest. Just prior to the coup, South Korea’s Daewoo Logistics Corporation attempted to negotiate a 99-year lease on 3.2 million hectares of farmland, contributing to anti-Ravalomanana sentiment fueled by Rajoelina, who later canceled the deal.
Some—including Ravalomanana–claim that the new government is being funded in part by illegal lumber exports. More recently, members of the transitional government banned trade in rainforest timber, but there are some concerns that this ban will not be enforceable given the continued political instability, reports MongaBay.
The damage already done “demonstrates that long-term conservation success depends on the overall political stability of a country and in turn on the steady improvement of the lives of its citizens,” wrote Rowan Moore Gerety in wildmadagascar.org last year.
“It’s difficult to work without a state,” said Guy Suzon Ramangason, director general of the organization that manages many of the national parks, recently told the New York Times.
Perhaps that situation will be rectified. In May Rajoelina announced that elections will be held in late 2010, in which he will not be running. Until then, it unlikely that conservation will receive adequate attention—from either Madagascar’s government or international donors.
Photo Credit: “Lemur behind the mesh” courtesy of flickr user Tambako the Jaguar