By Joe Shaw, John Colbourne & Elisabeth Andrews
In Madagascar, a country that is known for its extraordinary biodiversity, pollution is so severe that it has become the leading cause of premature death. It’s the smoke in people’s homes, where wood and charcoal are the main fuel sources for cooking. It’s the haze in the air, from burning forests, crops, and trash including plastics, metals, and biomedical waste, and from the toxic exhaust of ancient vehicles running on the lowest-quality fuel. It’s contamination in the water and soil from open dumping of unknown and unquantified chemicals where people grow their food and draw their drinking water.
As one of the world’s poorest countries, there is very little capacity for monitoring pollution and its health effects, yet the scarce information available indicates that pollution causes one out of every three premature deaths. While rates of malnutrition and communicable diseases have fallen in Madagascar, largely thanks to funding from international aid agencies, the death toll from pollution continues to rise, with the poorest communities experiencing the most suffering. A vicious cycle ensues in which widespread disease and disability prevent the economic growth needed to lift people out of extreme poverty. At a national level, the health costs of pollution total 8.6% of Madagascar’s gross national income, which does not account for the additional costs borne by those caring for the sick and dying. This same pollution is destroying the country’s natural resources, which are essential assets for its sustainable economic development. The problem is technical, cultural, economic, socio-ecological, and political. This complexity has often been mistaken for intractability. Yet we assembled the capability to tackle the whole of Madagascar’s pollution problem.
In response to this crisis, we’ve once again rallied behind Indiana University, in its bid to compete for a $100 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation, which will fund a single proposal that promises real and measurable progress in solving a critical problem of our time.
Other partners in this bid include:
University of Birmingham (UK)
Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory (USA) on behalf of our Consortium
Global Alliance for Health & Pollution (Switzerland)
Pure Earth (USA)
Global LPG Partnership (USA)
UNICEF, Madagascar via Global Alliance for Health & Pollution
WHO, Madagascar via our Environment Care Consortium
Education Development Center, USA
Université de Fianarantsoa, Madagascar
Our project's title is "Overcoming Madagascar’s number one killer: Pollution"
Madagascar is not alone in needing help. Pollution-related deaths are at crisis levels in many other industrializing countries including India, Bangladesh, China, Pakistan and Kenya. However, Madagascar is the first (out of 13 countries) to have completed a Health and Pollution Action Plan (HPAP) — which began in 2016 and was completed in September 2018. The new president ran on the platform of reversing the downward spiral. The will of the Malagasy, to address this problem, is strong. We are proposing funding to now execute that plan and reduce pollution exposure for half the population.
Completing this project in Madagascar will, we expect, lead the way to even greater impact in other countries undergoing the HPAP process in partnership with the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution. This includes, Bangladesh, India and China. On an even broader scale, evidence gained through precision toxicology and governance concerning the links between pollution and health will have global applicability and value.