Extreme poverty, the eternal emergency in the Malagasy South

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Southern Madagascar is one of the most vulnerable regions in sub-Saharan Africa. It is estimated that more than 9 out of 10 inhabitants live below the extreme poverty line ($1,90 per day). For around thirty years, alerts from NGOs, the media and international organizations have been recurring. The population faces numerous climatic, social, security, health and economic risks. Faced with the urgency of the situation, the region has gradually seen the establishment of a multitude of national and international emergency and development actors.

How can we understand the chronic emergency in the south of Madagascar and the responses to this crisis? We propose to rely on a job which references and archives the main works (scientific articles and gray literature) produced over the last 30 years on development projects in the south of Madagascar. On this basis, our team produced an analysis of the failure of projects implemented in the area. We refer the reader to the report "Development in the Malagasy Deep South. Some lessons from 30 years of development projects" (coordinated by Claire Gondard-Delcroix) for more information on the work carried out and the online library.

A multifactorial crisis

The great south of Madagascar is historically characterized by multifactorial vulnerability. The unfavorable agro-climatic conditions, in interaction with the geographical, political and economic isolation of the area, partly explain the differences between, on the one hand, the three southern regions and, on the other hand, the rest of the country .

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The severe agroclimatic constraints weighing on the region have serious consequences. The intensification of kéré (literally, "starvation" in Antandroy) poses significant problems of access to vital resources such as water and food. Mainly focused on agriculture and livestock, the income-generating activities of local populations have been largely impacted by periods of drought, but also by locust invasions and strong winds. 93% of people questioned as part of a investigation carried out in 2019 in the south of Madagascar declared having suffered a shock impacting their agricultural crops during the last twelve months. The multiplication and accumulation of these difficulties put the balance of power and traditional social structures under strain.

The most visible and most publicized upheaval is illustrated by the presence of zebu thieves (Dahalo). The scope of intervention of these groups, now heavily armed and highly organized, originally focused on the theft of zebus as part of local social practices, has gradually expanded to other trafficking, so much so that the term of dahalo is today less appropriate than that of malaso (bandits).

Climatic causes are far from being the only explanation for understanding the crisis that the three regions of the deep south are going through.

We talked about the political and geographical isolation of the region, the local and national power games; it is also necessary to particularly emphasize the types and modes of interventions developed. Interventions following a “project logic”, deployed over short time horizons and targeted objectives, struggle to take into account the multidimensionality of regional difficulties.

To this must be added the failures of the State (lack of infrastructure, significant underadministration) and the difficulties of coordinating aid and emergency actors. The combination of these different elements makes it possible to understand the multifactorial crisis underway in the great south of Madagascar.

The south of Madagascar, a cemetery with projects?

Faced with the urgency of the situation, the region has gradually become a laboratory for international aid. The populations of the great south have seen a succession of numerous aid and emergency projects, including food distribution programs, water and sanitation distribution programs and finally, recently, cash transfer programs.

Development and emergency interventions are mainly structured around the themes of nutrition, water, health, sanitation, extreme poverty or even natural disaster management, and are carried out of multiple actors.

For example, we can cite the numerous projects of the world Bank, World Food Program, the European Union, or UNICEF. It is also interesting to highlight the presence of national organizations with close links with international organizations such as the National Office of Risk and Disaster Management, Intervention Fund for Development or even the National Nutrition Office.

Non-governmental organizations such as CARE international, Red Cross, Catholic Relief Service ou Welthungerhilfe also play an important role. This presence of numerous development and emergency actors poses significant coordination problems in the implementation of interventions.

Historically, southern Madagascar is a region geographically and politically isolated. The State is almost absent there. Despite the plan "emergence of the great south"launched in 2021 by the Presidency of the Republic, things have hardly changed. We can also question the use of the notion of emergence in regions accustomed to situations of food, health and climate crises , security and institutional. The emergence plan appears more as a communication tool than a policy involving profound structural changes.

Thus the development actions carried out in the region are structured around projects characterized by reduced execution timescales (project time). This short-term logic poses significant problems : it reduces the possibilities for the sustainability of development projects, makes it more difficult to accumulate experience, contributes to reducing the confidence of local populations and exacerbates competition between the actors involved in access to financing and the development of projects.

What solutions?

It seems crucial to strengthen the adaptation of measures (policies and projects) in the south of Madagascar to local contexts. Indeed, many interventions can be described as traveling models. That is to say "standardized social intervention programs" which do not take into account the structure of local powers, local socio-economic dynamics, the history of power relations or even the informal protection activities and practices of local populations – this is the case, for example, of development of conditional or unconditional cash transfer programs.

New approaches allowing a precise understanding of local dynamics must be adopted. THE Research and technological exchange group (international solidarity organization) carries out several development projects by mobilizing a socioanthropological approach in order to take into account the diversity and complexity of contexts in the development of projects.

Furthermore, an important issue lies in the development of research work dedicated to the study of the multidimensionality of development dynamics in southern Madagascar. Indeed, if development projects usually include a monitoring and evaluation dimension, this remains focused on the achievement of the internal objectives of the project and on its impact, without taking into account regional complexities. While such evaluations are necessary to capitalize on, compare projects and assess their reproducibility, they do not make it possible to globally address the region's development issues. Such interdisciplinary research would make it possible to usefully nourish the science-society dialogue in the service of the development of development policies and projects in southern Madagascar.

Leo Delpy, Lecturer, University of Lille et Claire Gondard-Delcroix, Teacher-researcher in economics, Research Institute for Development (IRD)

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of InfoChrétienne.

Image credit: Shutterstock / Ana Flasker

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