Earthwatch Institute, Maynard, MA, November 6, 2009 - Earlier this year violent demonstrations in response to political tensions in Madagascar destabilized the country. This advisory contains a review of the facts known to date, and offers information for any volunteers who will field on our “Carnivores of Madagascar” project. At this time, Earthwatch expects to field all 2010 teams on its “Carnivores of Madagascar” project as planned. As always, safety is our primary concern and we are monitoring the situation closely.
On 17 March the democratically elected president of Madagascar, President Marc Ravalomanana, resigned as a result of what many nations have condemned as a coup d’état. A new president and transitional government have now been installed, but a tense security situation remains. Demonstrations in the capital of Antananarivo have continued periodically since the initial coup in March, the most recent being on October 6, 2009 where police used tear gas to break up a protest. The security situation remains fluid and could deteriorate further without warning. As stated earlier, we continue to monitor the situation closely.
In early 2009, the violence spread to other provincial cities, resulting in at least 125 deaths. Once President Marc Ravalomanana stepped down, anti-government opposition leader and former mayor of Antananarivo Andry Rajoelina was declared president of the transitional government. However, Rajoelina has lacked endorsement from the international community and further protests for and against the transitional regime have undermined the country’s stability. Negotiations between the rival leaders have progressed very slowly and the situation remains volatile. In addition, the current political situation - which led to the discontinuation of much foreign aid to Madagascar - has exacerbated poverty and other difficult conditions in the region. This in turn has led to increased petty crime, theft and occasionally violent incidents - particularly in urban and tourist areas.
Travel advisories differ according to different resources. Currently, the US State Department lists no restrictions for travel to Madagascar; their travel warning was lifted as of July 2009. The UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office only advises against travel into the capital of Antananarivo. The Australia Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advise their nationals to reconsider their need to travel to Madagascar at this time. All of these governments strongly encourage travelers to register their itineraries with their respective embassies; see below for information on online registration. The violence has so far not been directed against foreign travelers, but there remains a risk of exposure to incidental violence during outbreaks of unrest.
Travelers are specifically advised to avoid sensitive locations where protest activity is likely to occur; these include Independence Avenue, the Place du 13 Mai, the presidential palace, Democracy Square Park, Magro on Hydrocarbon, Lake Anosy, Tana Waterfront and Mahamasina Stadium, the offices of political parties and media outlets as well as in the so-called ‘red zone' comprising ministries and government buildings. Visitors are further advised to follow the advice of local authorities, avoid unnecessary local travel, and monitor local media sources for more information.
Earthwatch is regularly communicating with our partners and project staff on the ground as well as with International SOS, our health and security consultants. The lead scientist for Earthwatch’s “Carnivores of Madagascar” project, Luke Dollar, is in constant contact with the project staff in Madagascar who will continue to provide updates on the situation. Please also note that the project is located well into the countryside in the north of the country – approximately six hours driving from Antananarivo. The airport is located north of the city with several hotels around it; thus volunteers will not need to go into the Antananarivo city center itself.
Earthwatch cannot guarantee anyone’s safety completely. Natural and political disasters can and do happen without warning. Volunteers should read Project Briefings thoroughly and think carefully about their personal comfort level with the field conditions of the project, the volunteer tasks and their own physical and mental capabilities. We encourage volunteers to educate themselves about current conditions in Madagascar by consulting the following resources:
http://www.internationalsos.com/en/index.htm - Member Login: 14ACPA000075, select “Security Online” from the drop-down menu.
United States Department of State: Madagascar
https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ui/ - Online embassy registration for US citizens
United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Madagascar
http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/travel-and-living-abroad/staying-safe/Locate/ - Online embassy registration for British citizens
Australia Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade: Madagascar
https://www.orao.dfat.gov.au/orao/weborao.nsf/homepage?Openpage - Online embassy registration for Australian citizens
Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada: Madagascar
https://www.voyage2.gc.ca/Registration_inscription - Online embassy registration for Canadian citizens
If you are scheduled to field on an Earthwatch expedition and would like to speak to an advisor please call 1-800-776-0188.