Madagascar background info

Getting around Madagascar can rightly be called a challenge. Madagascar is as big as England and Germany combined and has only 6480 km of paved road. That is about 1.9% of what we have in the west in a similar area. Distances are measured in days of walking rather than hours of driving.

Often the only alternative is to fly, but there aren’t enough runways to reach every part of th island. Helicopters can get to most of the island, but are generally prohibitively expensive to run and can’t land on the mudplains.

The west coast alone has a network of rivers and beaches that total over 13,000 km. By using hovercraft along the rivers we can get to an estimated 1.5 million people.

Madagascar is frequently hit by tropical cyclones. This has disastrous consequences for the affected areas. The worst cyclone in recent years was cyclone “Gafilo” in 2003. In the town of Antalaha 95% of all houses were destroyed and overall there were 300,000 people left without housing.

Following a cyclone infrastructure is often severely damaged. Many areas are cut off because of flooding, landslides, damaged roads and destroyed bridges. Water supplies are often contaminated, which can take months to restore, and in this situation a hovercraft is invaluable providing valuable assistance in disaster areas.

West Coast
The coastal areas of Madagascar are dissected by major rivers that drain the high plateau and mountain ranges in the various coastal regions. Along the West Coast is a large lowland area crossed by many rivers, some of which are more than 200km long. These rivers are generally very wide and vary greatly in depth during the different seasons. During the rainy season from December to May the level increases, for example Mangoky river, rises by more than five meters and expands by several hundred meters in width.

The flow is so strong that crossing is impossible and the river is unnavigable by canoe owing to the large tree trunks and other debris carried in the flow. There aren’t any bridges mainly due to the large width of the rivers which range from one hundred meters to more than a kilometer.

Crossing in the dry season is no easier: the sandy soil is very soft large holes appear unexpectedly in which a car can easily get stuck. The average depth of water in the dry season is generally less than 20cm and often only 5cm even when the river is hundred of metres wides. Where these circumstances combine regular transportation is very limited, but for a hovercraft there are no problems.

Some medical data
In the remote areas in Madagascar, a large proportion of the population has no access to medical care. Consequently many diseases are seen and treated far too late. Moreover, left untreated, injuries and illnesses have serious consequences for the people affected.

Some figures:

  • Every eight minutes a child dies (under 5 years) in Madagascar from an easily treatable condition (eg, diarrhoea or respiratory illnesses).
  • 50% of all children are chronically malnourished*.
  • There is a shortage of 2,000 physicians in Madagascar.
  • Each year 17,000 people die from malaria.

* Madagascar has the highest rates of malnutrition in Southern Africa. More than 50% of the population is chronically malnourished. 15% of the people are severely malnourished and desperately need help (source: Southern Africa Regional Food Security Update January 21 st 2010)

Other issues that HoverAid have run into include taboos, superstitions and traditional medicines which have a negative impact on health, especially in the more remote villages. For example, it is generally accepted that breast milk is poisonous when the mother is pregnant again, whilst on average there are only a few months between pregnancies. Breast feeding is stopped immediately a woman becomes pregnant again and the earlier born child is often unable to fully develop without the minerals and antibodies which are present in breast milk.