Madagascar: Protecting Madagascar's Rich Biodiversity Is an Investment in Our Planet

Tsiafajavona Ankaratra, Madagascar (file photo).
interview

The island country of Madagascar is being ravaged by drought and sandstorms, phenomena that are linked to climate change. At COP27, the UN Resident Coordinator in Madagascar, Issa Sanogo, talks to Africa Renewal's Kingsley Ighobor about how the government, backed by the UN, is addressing the challenges, and the ramifications of a successful COP27 for Madagascar and other African countries. These are excerpts from the interview:

How do you think COP27 is going so far?

I'm glad to be here. I'm finding it very useful in the sense that there are a lot of thematic areas that relate to the work we do on the ground. For example, issues related to loss and damage, water, gender and biodiversity. I'm enjoying sitting in discussions centred around new solutions to challenges; these are solutions that we can probably apply back in Madagascar.

What are the effects of the climate crisis in Madagascar?

Climate change in Madagascar is actually a topic of debate. Some tend to think that we cannot blame it [droughts and sandstorms] all on climate change given the country's development deficit.

But when you see the frequency, depth and duration of extreme weather events, it's very difficult not to attribute some or most of it to climate change. I'm going to give a couple of examples.

In 2021, Madagascar faced for the first time in 40 years, the most severe drought. Sandstorms covered farmlands. The displaced moved to the cities to look for a living; others moved to the forest areas, encroaching on natural reserves, burning down forests, etc.

Then in early 2022, again for the first time, Madagascar faced six storms and cyclones within just three months.

The impacts of a combination of the drought and the cyclone forced close to 2 million people to needing humanitarian assistance, which almost doubled or tripled previous numbers.

That's the reality of climate change in Madagascar.

When you look at the opportunities for Madagascar, loss and damage is one because of the cyclone that hit at the beginning of the year. A month ago, I was in the field, and it's very clear that we are nowhere near repairing the damage caused by the cyclone.

The World food Programme has warned that Madagascar could be the first country to experience 'climate change famine'. How is the situation being addressed by national authorities?

Well, the first thing the government did was to allow humanitarian assistance at scale. The government was at the forefront and, together with the humanitarian community and donors, scaled up humanitarian assistance significantly.

The humanitarian response had an impact because, indeed, assessments showed that a famine-like situation was averted. I must say that we are still in a humanitarian context. Many people are still in emergency mode when it comes to food security and nutrition, but at least we are seeing some gains. And that's because the government allowed the humanitarian community, especially the UN, to launch flash appeals, which mobilised a lot of resources.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the humanitarian community and donors.

The second thing is that the government realized we needed to move into a development mode. The government is pushing for investments in water systems and roads because the affected areas actually lack these infrastructures. Getting out of humanitarian assistance requires addressing development deficits.

And thirdly, the government is advocating for disaster risk reduction. Madagascar has a National Disaster Risk Reduction Strategy, and there is acknowledgment we can't move overnight from humanitarian to development.

How is the UN supporting government efforts?

The government is pushing on the development side. When you look at Official Development Assistance (ODA) per capita, Madagascar is one of the lowest recipients in the world.

Why is that?

Because the government's capacity to absorb resources is low. The resources are coming but translating them into investment is taking time. Clearly, the resources we are receiving in Madagascar are nowhere near what is being invested elsewhere.

And because of that, multilateral banks and regional development banks are providing resources to support the government to build needed infrastructure.

Now, as far as the UN is concerned, we (all UN agencies involved) have led the humanitarian response.

The UN is also supporting the government in other ways such as implementing the disaster reduction strategy and the national adaptation plan, as well as with resource mobilization.

The UN is championing many important initiatives. For instance, on protecting against the invasion of farmlands by sandstorms, the UN initiated the planting of sisals, which is showing good results. The construction of desalination systems and multipurpose water points is also part of the UN's support of national efforts.

Madagascar is one of the few countries in the Global Biodiversity Finance Initiative. And the implementation of that initiative is receiving support from the UN. We have climate financing, which is also part of the capacity strengthening the UN is providing.

In addition, the UN continues to strengthen the capacity of national entities in charge of disaster management.

Lastly, on the programmatic level, the UN is championing many important initiatives. For instance, on protecting against the invasion of farmlands by sandstorms, the UN initiated the planting of sisals, which is showing good results. The construction of desalination systems and multipurpose water points is also part of the UN's support of national efforts.

However, all that needs to be taken to scale if we want to change the paradigm from humanitarian to development.

Madagascar must be eager for some good outcomes on loss and damage here at COP27?

Absolutely! To me, when you look at the opportunities for Madagascar, loss and damage is one because of the cyclone that hit at the beginning of the year. A month ago, I was in the field, and it's very clear that we are nowhere near repairing the damage caused by the cyclone.

Beyond Madagascar, however, many other African countries are suffering from loss and damage resulting from the climate crisis. Funding loss and damage is therefore welcome news.

Are there climate action best practices in Madagascar that may be replicated in other countries?

I just mentioned the investments in terms of protecting the farmlands by planting sisal plants, which grow in coastal areas and do not require too much care. The sisals help resist sandstorms. This has really helped the southern part of Madagascar to recover farmlands.

And that has become a best practice the government is really advocating for it.

The UN is also supporting the government in other ways such as implementing the disaster reduction strategy and the national adaptation plan, as well as with resource mobilization.

Will you scale it up?

That's the point. We are now advocating for resource mobilisation to scale it up because it will go a long way in helping recover lost lands.

The second thing is that Madagascar, under its presidency of the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC), is mobilising the private sector to be part of the climate change agenda. In this regard, a couple of weeks ago, the UN supported the government to launch consultations among the IOC countries.

What came out of the consultation was that 30 private environmentally-oriented projects were selected. Some of these projects are focused on reducing the carbon footprint by 30 per cent by 2030, and we want to mobilise resources for such projects because it is important for the private sector to be part of the solution.

What would make you happy when COP 27 is over?

I see already that COP27 is bringing hope because the UN Secretary-General's call to action is materializing through the concrete solutions that we see in the thematic discussions. That is very encouraging.

The second thing that will make me more than happy is funding for loss and damage. It will go a long way for a country like Madagascar and many other African countries.

Lastly, Madagascar is rich in biodiversity; 80 per cent of the global fauna and flora can be found on the island. So, boosting finance for biodiversity is an opportunity for Madagascar and an investment in our planet.

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