SEATTLE — With an abundance of natural resources, the potential for economic growth is stunted by the degrading infrastructure in Madagascar.
Located northeast of South Africa, the island is home to more than 24 million people and is one of the poorest countries in the world, with 92 percent of the population living on less than $2 per day, according to the World Bank. This extreme poverty in Madagascar can be attributed to the lack of access via roadways to other parts of the island, thus prohibiting opportunities for trade.
Only about 10 percent of the roads in Madagascar are in good condition and accessible throughout the year. Many other roads are either not paved at all or have deteriorating asphalt induced by poor maintenance, cyclones and flooding that can leave roads impassable.
Depending heavily upon road travel are Madagascar’s farmers, who make up about four-fifths of the country’s labor force. Since 70 percent of its exports are agricultural goods, primarily rice and coffee, the inability to transport produce across the nation causes Madagascar’s economy to plummet.
Other problems with Madagascar’s road network include the lack of traffic signs and traffic lights as well as a lack of roadway lights. According to LogCluster, many natives do not recognize traffic regulations, nor do they adhere to speed limits.
Despite the roadways being a known and influential dilemma, the Malagasy government only spends 8 percent of its budget on infrastructure. It is heavily dependent on foreign aid from the European Union and the World Bank as well as the African Development Bank to improve the roadways.
Besides roadways, infrastructure in Madagascar consists of 17 ports, of which only five are maintained enough for commercial use. Even with five commercially-used ports, 75 percent of freight is made in the Toamasina port, located on Madagascar’s eastern shore.
There are only two railroads in Madagascar, both of which are in poor condition and unreliable. People, as well as goods using the railway systems, have decreased with the transporting of goods decreasing by 90 percent since 1990, according to the Consulate General of Madagascar. With deteriorating roads and a poor railway system, foreign aid to inland Madagascar heavily relies on air transport following a natural disaster. Disasters like cyclones can leave up to 50 percent of the villages isolated by impassable conditions like flooding. In these scenarios, aid normally comes in small planes or helicopters.
Another issue with infrastructure in Madagascar is access to the internet. As of 2016, only 4.3 percent of the population had internet access, according to InternetLiveStats. While not as essential as improving the current roads, gaining access to the internet is another step toward creating a stronger economy. Internet access contributed to the World Economic Forum’s assessment of Madagascar’s infrastructure as ranking 132nd out of 148 countries.
Following a political coup in 2009 that weakened the country’s economy and caused temporary foreign aid bans, the Malagasy government plans on making roadway improvement one of the major steps in reviving Madagascar’s economy. A possible solution could be enhancing the material and quality of roadways rather than using the current materials of cobblestones or just a dirt road. The roads must be resilient to harsh tropical rains and cyclones, as Madagascar is a consistent victim of such storms and rainy seasons.
Other solutions include upgrading the country’s traffic signs and lights, which would allow for safer night travel. To complete these tasks, Madagascar must increase its current infrastructure budget of 8 percent, or increase the amount of foreign aid. Without significant improvements to Madagascar’s infrastructure, agricultural goods and other natural resources on the island will continue to fall short of their huge economic potential.
– Austin Stoltzfus