Madagascar: United in Soccer and Pollution Cleanup

Andrew McCartor, Pure Earth’s director of global policy and planning, traveled to Madagascar to lead a meeting organized by UNICEF that brought together over 66 representatives from more than 34 agencies, organizations and businesses to discuss the country’s pollution challenges and solutions. The people of Madagascar are ready to solve pollution. Their passion, determination and drive will take them far, as Drew recounts:

I landed in Madagascar at an extraordinary moment in the nation’s history. One minister remarked to me that it was the first time the nation was truly united since gaining independence from France in 1960.

For the entire week I was there, tens of thousands of people were dancing in the street every night. The excitement was for the national football team, which was in the middle of a fairytale run in the Africa Cup of Nations. Just five years prior, the Madagascar national team was ranked nearly dead last in the world by FIFA. On the day I arrived, they beat DR Congo to advance to the quarter-finals. On the day I left, the national heroes arrived home at the same time I was scheduled to depart. While exciting, this fact also proved problematic.

When I jumped into a taxi to head to the airport, I notice an unusual amount of foot traffic outside my hotel. Everyone was walking in the same direction. It became clear that our car would make no progress. We were surrounded by thousands of people making their way to the airport on foot. I hopped out and hired two motorbike drivers to help me advance. One took my bag. One took me. We got to within one mile of the airport before the motorbikes were also stuck in the dense crowd. I found my bag, held it on top of my head, and began to squeeze my way through. I was one of a tiny handful of people who were actually trying to fly out. I arrived at my gate just as the door was closing and was one of only six people to successfully make the (normally full) flight to Nairobi.

When people are motivated, success usually follows. In soccer, as in pollution cleanup. Without deep pockets or fancy equipment, Madagascar’s underdog last-placed team beat the odds to become national heroes. The people’s passion and support pushed their team to heights no one thought possible. Similarly, I see the people of Madagascar rallying around the concrete plans to solve pollution. The high rate of participation in our recent forum and the enthusiasm of the attendees shows the intense interest in reducing the health toll from pollution in Madagascar, especially on its children, who are most impacted.

Pure Earth has already completed a Health and Pollution Action Plan (HPAP) with the government of Madagascar, which lays out practical steps and projects to solve the highest priority challenges. When implemented, the plan could improve the health of over half the population. In Madagascar, one in three deaths are related to pollution. We will beat the odds.

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