On February 22, a violent cyclone hit the coastal town of Toliara in Southern Madagascar. The storm flooded a dam and caused it to burst, leaving behind a trail of devastation in neighbourhoods close to the Fiherenana river.
At the time, WWF in Madagascar was preparing for the Earth Hour 2013 campaign. Like the previous year, it was focused on convincing people to use wood saving stoves that would save at least half of every family’s charcoal consumption. The geographical focus was Toliara, since pressure on the unique natural forest is incredibly high with droughts and crop failure forcing people into charcoal devastation. It is one of WWF’s biggest battles to promote these stoves, as a huge amount of forests can be saved while doing something good for the people using them.
When half of Toliara was flooded – with thousands of people and 12 WWF colleagues having lost all or parts of their belongings – the plan to raise awareness for Earth Hour didn’t make sense any more. No one would want to hear about the environment, so we needed to refocus and do something completely different. We then decided to put all of our Earth Hour budget into buying 1,000 of these wood saving stoves and distributing them to the people who had lost everything in these horrible floods.
It was a hectic time re-modelling the campaign, getting the money, finding the right partner and sorting out all the logistics while also thinking about a communication strategy. But we did it and on March 23, we stood in Toliara distributing 1,000 stoves with our partner Association pour le Développement de l’Energie Solaire (ADES) to 1,000 beneficiaries – who were all victims of cyclone Haruna. It was great, it was meaningful and it was the right thing to do in that context.
Three months later, we went back to Toliara and distributed another 2,200 stoves to victims of Haruna in the same neighbourhoods. Over the their lifespan of three years, the 3,200 stoves we’ve distributed will save approximately 1,897 ha of forests, and stock 13,200 tons of carbon. That’s over half a hectare of forest per person! Families who use them can save at least 3 dollars a months in charcoal – a lot of money in a country where 80% lives with less than 1 dollar a day.
With this second distribution, we have now ensured that 10% of all households in Toliara have a wood saving stove.
At the same time, we checked back on the neighbourhoods to see if people were using the stoves we gave them for Earth Hour. And they sure were! Misa, a 23 old mother of two told us, that she uses one big bag of charcoal now per month instead of two. She added that she also coughs less since her new stove produces less smoke. And she confirmed that her meal tastes as good as it did before.
Other women have said the same – they are all happy, and were happy to share their experience in order to convince others that the stoves were the way to go – both for the family budget and for saving the unique spiny forest they all depend on.
This year, WWF is celebrating 50 years of conservation achievements in Madagascar. A lot has been done, but there is a lot is left to do. We are proud to say we have played an important role in setting up a protected area network that represents every unique ecosystem this incredible island hosts. We are equally proud to have initiated over 700 environmental youth clubs all over the country with 50,000 members doing their share to protect the environment – just to name a few of the lasting contributions we were able to make. But the challenges remain large, and deforestation still threatens the unique habitat of countless endemic species. Wood saving stoves can contribute to saving these forests.
We go beyond the hour and so does WWF – after 50 years in Madagascar we are still in for more.
Communications Manager, WWF Madagascar and Western Indian Ocean