What We Do in Madagascar
Supported by a United Nations micro-enterprise development program, Freedom from Hunger works with a number of local organizations in Madagascar, including Haingonala, OTIV, Tiavo and Vola Mahasola. Credit with Education is making a positive impact in the lives of over 8,000 poor women and their families. As of March 31, 2005, this program had an outstanding loan portfolio of US $300,881 with more than US $3.3 million loaned and repaid to date.
- Population: 14.9 million
- Area: 226,658 sq. mi. (587,041 sq. km.)
- Languages: French and Malagasy
- Religions: Indigenous beliefs 52%, Christian 41%, Muslim 7%
- Average life expectancy at birth: 53 years
- Infant mortality rate: 89.1 deaths/1,000 live births
- Fertility rate: 5.7 children born/woman
- Gross Domestic Product per capita: US $209
Madagascar is the world's fourth largest island, located in the Indian Ocean off the southern coast of Africa. Comprised of a tropical coastal region, a temperate mountainous inland region, and an arid southern tip, different points on the island evoke images ranging from the expansive, bright green rice paddies of Asia to the pristine beaches of Cuba. With a climate and geography as diverse as its people, for many, Madagascar embodies the word exotic.
The country's richly varied population is the result of a unique history of settlement and immigration. Africans and Indonesians first inhabited Madagascar about 2,000 years ago, with European exploration beginning in the 1500s. France gained full colonial rule in 1883 and remained in power until 1958, when the country peacefully gained its independence. Today, Malay-Polynesians, Arabs, Indians, Portuguese and French add to the ethnic mix of the people. French and Malagasy are Madagascar's official languages.
The mainstay of Madagascar's economy is agriculture, with an emphasis on vanilla, rice, sugarcane, cloves and fishing. Despite the richness of the land, the country is plagued by poverty, and nearly three-quarters of the population live on US $1 per day or less. Poor health and chronic malnutrition are commonplace. Funding for education is generally scarce, and only about 35% of the country's nearly 15 million inhabitants have access to any health services.
Compounding Madagascar's social plights are its environmental problems. Madagascar features some of the world's most unique flora and fauna. The island is home to 90% of all known lemur species, half of the world's chameleons and more than 3,000 species of butterfly. At the same time, deforestation has wiped out nearly 85% of the island's original forests, leading to massive soil erosion. The water is contaminated by sewage and much of Madagascar's precious wildlife is in danger of extinction.