ANTANARIVO, Madagascar — Pope Francis denounced the illegal logging and exploitation of Madagascar’s unique natural resources on Saturday as he opened a visit to the Indian Ocean nation by urging the government to fight the corruption that is ravaging the island’s ecosystem and keeping its people in “inhumane poverty.”
Francis called on President Andry Rajoelina to provide Madagascar’s people with jobs and alternative sources of income so they aren’t forced to cut down trees to find fertile soil, poach the island’s wildlife and engage in contraband and illegal exportation of its diverse flora, fauna and mineral resources.
“The deterioration of that biodiversity compromises the future of the country and of the earth, our common home,” Francis warned Rajoelina and other government authorities as he began the second leg of his weeklong trip to southern Africa.
Madagascar is home to 5% of the world’s plant and animal species, with around 95% of its reptiles and 89% of its plant life existing nowhere else on Earth, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
Yet it is also one of the world’s poorest countries, with 75% of its 25.5 million people living on less than $2 a day.
Environmental groups and Transparency International have long highlighted the illegal logging of Madagascar’s rosewood forests and other endangered tree species as evidence of the rampant corruption that has made multimillionaires out of a few “rosewood barons” who have plundered the island’s northeastern forests.
“Your lovely island of Madagascar is rich in plant and animal biodiversity, yet this treasure is especially threatened by excessive deforestation, from which some profit,” Francis said.
He cited forest fires, poaching and the “unrestricted cutting down of valuable woodlands” as particular threats.
More so than any pope before him, Francis has made environmental concerns a pillar of his papacy, linking global warming to the persistent exploitation of the world’s poor by the wealthy. He has also frequently called attention to the devastation wrought on the poor by corruption, often calling public officials to account on his foreign trips.