World

The richest poor country in the world

Madagascar should be an “it” destination. Think breathtaking vistas, alleys of baobab trees and canyons of jagged karst.

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Beaches and reefs rim an island the size of Texas off the southeastern coast of the African mainland. The one-of-a-kind culture includes African and Asian people and traditions, along with influences left behind by French colonization.

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Sometimes referred to as “The Eighth Continent,” one would think Madagascar lures backpackers and five-star glampers to explore its one-of-a-kind culture.

Masoala Forest Lodge

But the country's resources are now in peril due to natural and man-made disasters from political corruption to crushing poverty. Now, its top threats are plague and an environmental disaster.

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The rare pneumonic plague affecting Madagascar can pass between humans with a close cough then kill within 24 hours. More than 200 people died of the disease in 2017, according to the World Health Organization

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Madagascar also may be on the precipice of an environmental disaster. People are turning the trees into charcoal to burn and sell. In low wetlands, trees are cleared to grow rice. In the rainforest, precious rosewood is poached to fill China's demand for expensive furniture.

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The people endure hardships, too: Just 15% of Madagascar’s 20 million residents have electricity, and most live on a dollar or two a day.

So, what now?

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Bands of local guides, with an eye on advancing ecotourism in the country, are determined to convince their neighbors to stop killing Madagascar's endangered animals.

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Preservation groups and associations also are trying to teach a new generation of kids that ecotourism is sustainable while slash-and-burn farming is not.

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At this point, the most dependable renewable resource in Madagascar is hope. Turning hope into action could mean the difference between survival and extinction, for man and beast.