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Supporting the next generation of sustainable and inclusive urban development planning in Madagascar

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According to UN-Habitat and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, over half of the world’s population live in cities today. It is estimated that 3 million people around the world are moving to cities every week. The current urban population of 3.9 billion is expected to grow to some 6.4 billion by 2050, with almost all growth to take place in urban areas in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in Africa and Asia.

The city of Ambalavao in the Haute Matsiatra region
The city of Ambalavao in the Haute Matsiatra region - Copyright: Arthur Bourgogne / IOM

The fast rate of urbanisation, and rising migration to cities, brings with it both risks and opportunities for the migrants, communities and governments concerned. Migration to cities has traditionally offered people the opportunity to escape socioeconomic and other pressures in their areas of origin, and to diversify livelihoods. Cities can also turn urban diversity arising from migration into social and economic advantages.

But migrating to cities can result in increased vulnerability, especially if formal employment, decent housing, and the basic services needed for a decent life, are lacking, which then can lead to marginalisation and social exclusion.

The city of Ambalavao is located on the National Road 7. At just around 465 km from capital city, Antananarivo, and 55 Fiananarantsoa, often referred to as “Gateway South”.
The city of Ambalavao is located on the National Road 7. At just around 465 km from the capital city, Antananarivo, and 55 km from the city of Fiananarantsoa, Ambalavao is often referred to as the “Gateway to the South”.

This complex reality is particularly evident in Madagascar. While the country’s population is still largely rural, the country is without a doubt in the throes of its urban transition. While only 27 % of the population was living in cities in 2005, they were 33 % in 2012 and 37 % in 2014 respectively. According to existing statistical projections, 1 in every 2 Malagasy will live in cities by 2035. Much of this urbanisation comes from internal rural to urban migration, and migration between cities.

But in Madagascar — as in much of the world –, while migration and how it is governed should be an issue at the frontline of urban planning and sustainable development, it is still overlooked. Cities and local governments do not include migration or migrants in their urban development planning and implementation, and there is a disjuncture between national and local policies and urban planning processes.

As a result, cities in Madagascar continue to present some of the worst development indicators: 72% of cities’ inhabitants live in informal housing; 65% do not have access to energy; 60% do not have access to public transportation; and 40% lack access to drinkable water and basic sanitation facilities.

The cattle market of Ambalavao is the second largest in country
Given its location, natural attributes of mild year-round climate, and connection to key urban centers, Ambalavao steadily grew into a significant trading post. Herders from the South frequently came in to sell their zebus — the humped cattle typical of M
Ambalavao silk processing, Madagascar
Ambalavao is also a popular stop for international and national tourists alike. Local specialities such as the processing of silk, Anteimoro papers, and winery; creates opportunities for business and eco-tourism services.

The city of Ambalavao — population 45,000 — in the Haute Matsiatra region, is located on the National Road 7 that links 4 of the top 6 largest urban centers of the country (Antananarivo, Antsirabe, Fiananarantsoa, and Toliara). At just around 465 km South from the capital city, Antananarivo, and 55 km South of the city of Fiananarantsoa, Ambalavao is often referred to as the “Gateway to the South”. It is a place of topographic, climatic, and socio-cultural transitions and mixture.

Migration has been, and is to this day, consubstantial to the identity of Ambalavao. Four in every ten inhabitants consider themselves as migrants or descendent of migrants. The city became — and is still — a place of transit and passage, and a place of new opportunities, draining population from the surrounding rural regions, further contributing to its dynamism, and giving it a distinctly cosmopolitan feel.

The cattle market of Ambalavao remains the second largest in the country — with some 1,500 zebus sold and transported to and from a vast barren field the size of 4 football pitch, every Tuesday. With all its directly and indirectly associated needs in hospitality and restauration services, intermediaries, truck drivers, traders, money lenders and collectors, the market continues to be a powerful magnet for individuals seeking to make a living. Migrants are found in significant numbers in businesses that sell cooked food for instance, an occupation that is considered “taboo” amongst the local resident population.

The city is also a popular stop along the much-travelled National Road 7 for international and national tourists alike. The proximity to the Andringitra National Park, which is often described as boasting some of the best natural landscapes of Madagascar and offers world-class mountain climbing opportunities, along with other local specialities creates opportunities for business and eco-tourism services.

Traditional housing reminiscent of the architecture Merina highlands compete for space with modern multi-storeyed construction
Traditional housing reminiscent of the architecture of the Merina highlands compete for space with modern multi-storeyed construction. Copyright: Arthur Bourgogne/IOM

With a yearly average growth rate of 3.1 %, the growth of Ambalavao remains higher than surrounding cities. At this rate, the city’s population would double in just 22 years. And while — because of its own history and make up — local authorities and the population hold a generally positive view of the benefits of migration to the city’s development, this sustained urbanisation rate also comes with important challenges.

While there are largely untapped extension opportunities thanks to a favourable topography, for lack of investment into those extensions, the population remains broadly agglutinated around the few roads that made up the initial urban map of the city in the early nineteenth century. Traditional housing reminiscent of the architecture of the Merina highlands compete for space with modern multi-storeyed construction that spring anarchically, and encroach on public space and passageways, further congesting the city.

Also, though the proportion of households reporting access to water has tripled over the last 25 years, it remains at a very low 39 per cent, leading to long sinuous lines of individuals waiting hours on end to fetch water at public fountains. And if the city is equipped with some socio-cultural, sporting, and entertainment infrastructures, they are often in a dilapidated state. There are few to no parks. This, coupled with poverty has been identified as a reason for the increase in petty delinquency, particularly amongst the youth.

Provision of social and basic services, such as health education, is already strained. The city has only two centres category II
Provision of social and basic services, such as health and education, is already strained. The city has only two health centres of category II. Copyright: Arthur Bourgogne/IOM
Thought the city is equipped with some socio-cultural, sporting, and entertainment infrastructures, they are often in a dilapidated state.
And if the city is equipped with some socio-cultural, sporting, and entertainment infrastructures, they are often in a dilapidated state. Copyright: Arthur Bourgogne/IOM

Provision of social and basic services, such as health and education is already strained. The city has only two health centres of category II (staffed with at least one Medical Doctor) to serve its population of 45,000. For a population this size, there ought to be five police stations, there are only two currently.

Migration management is fundamentally complicated. It requires strong collaboration amongst all urban development stakeholders to be effective
- Nirina Thierry Ralaiharison, the Prefect of the Haute Matsiatra region

The forecast is even bleaker. To accommodate the various scenarios of likely population growth by 2035, it was recently estimated that to the 18 primary schools already available, an additional 35 to 37 new primary schools would need to be built. An additional 3 to 6 health centres of category II would be necessary, along with between four and seven new police stations, and a doubling of the public water delivery capacity. Nirina Thierry Ralaiharison, the Prefect of the Haute Matsiatra region summarises the challenges and the complexity in addressing them: “migration management is fundamentally complicated. It requires strong collaboration amongst all urban development stakeholders to be effective”.

If cities are to meet their potential of becoming levers of emergence and national sustainable development, it is critical to assess the role of migration and migrant’s relation to urban development. Migration is reflected in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and Objective 19 of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration (GCM) calls for states to integrate migration into development planning and sectoral policies at local, national, regional and global levels.

 IOM (UN Migration) has been working since early 2019 with national and local urban development stakeholders in Madagascar to mainstream migration into every stage of urban development planning under the “Mainstreaming Migration into International Cooperation and Development” (MMICD) initiative, funded by the European Union.

The MMICD initiative developed global guidelines on how to mainstream migration to the urban development sector. The guidelines are being piloted in Madagascar, as well as 2 other partner countries (Ecuador and Nepal). Building on assessment findings and identified needs in country, IOM drew on the guidelines and tools to develop a context-specific methodological guide for integrating migration into the PUDi (Plan d’urbanisme Directeur — Master urban development plan) for the period 2021–2035.

IOM put in place a methodological guide in close coordination with national authorities from the Ministry of Land Management, and local municipal authorities and other local stakeholders from the city of Ambalavao. According to Yves Georges Randrianirina, Mayor of Ambalavao “the elaboration of the PUDi comes at a very opportune time, as the city is currently working on its expansion strategy, and the identification of the needs in new infrastructures, to meet the demands of a growing population that comes from strong birth rate and internal migration”.

For Daniel Silva y Poveda, IOM Madagascar Chief of Mission “the MMICD initiative is very advantageous in that it provides for solid conceptual approaches and tools to mainstream migration into sustainable urban development planning that draw on expert knowledge and global best practice, while also providing for a contextualisation of those tools to concrete local realities and needs”.

From a story by Daniel Silva Y Poveda.