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Building Urban Resilience to Climate Change: A Review of Madagascar

This report examines the institutional environment, urban management capacity, and financial resources and mechanisms available to address adaptation in Madagascar’s growing cities.
Multiple Authors
Cover Photo: Maria Olsen, European Union/European Commission Humanitarian and Civil Protection (EU/ECHO).


Madagascar is exposed to a variety of weather and climate phenomena that have wide-ranging impacts on human health and safety, natural resource availability, economic activities, and homes and other infrastructure. Southern Madagascar frequently experiences drought, while the northeastern regions of the island are predominantly exposed to cyclones and heavy rainfall from November to April. In addition, significant migration to and between the capital and largest city, Antananarivo, rapidly expanding secondary cities, and emerging urban centers are outpacing municipal capacity to address existing vulnerabilities caused by years of political turmoil and widespread poverty. Despite the commitment to decentralization from the national to local governments articulated and reaffirmed in the Government of Madagascar’s laws and policies, technical and financial capacity to support urban management and delivery of basic services remains limited.

This assessment examines the institutional, legal, and regulatory environment, climate change adaptation (CCA) capacity (and urban management capacity more generally), and financial resources and mechanisms available to address adaptation and disaster risk reduction (DRR) priorities in Madagascar’s growing cities.


Information for this assessment was collected from a desk study and field work. In the field, researchers met with national-level stakeholders, including representatives from the stateowned utility agency that provides the bulk of water and electrical services to the country (Jiro sy Rano Malagasy, or JIRAMA), international donors and partners (e.g., World Bank, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)), nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and research institutions.

Figure 1 from page 5 of the report. Location of field assessment sites in Madagascar

Researchers also met with representatives from four municipalities: the capital, Antananarivo; Tsihombe and Tuléar in southern Madagascar; and Maroantsetra in northeast Madagascar. These cities were selected as they represented a range of challenges and climate risks (e.g., floods in Antananarivo, Tuléar, and Maroantsetra, and droughts in Tsihombe) facing urban areas of varying size across Madagascar’s diverse geographies. A complete list of individuals interviewed and their organizations is available in Annex A of the full text.

Key Findings

  • Explicit efforts to move adaptation forward are relatively new in Madagascar. Disaster risk management (DRM) has been the focus of relevant policy and activity on the ground, with priority given to disaster response and early recovery over preparedness and DRR.
  • The functions of DRM, DRR, and CCA are distributed between government agencies at the national level. This siloed effect often causes confusion about roles and responsibilities and creates competition among national agencies for international climate finance.
  • Years of political upheaval coupled with undercurrents of civil unrest have produced vague and sometimes conflicting guidance regarding the decentralized system of governance, including the appropriate governing structures, and their roles and responsibilities. Weak coordination between the national and local level constrain the ability of urban and peri-urban areas to adequately plan for, respond, and adapt to climate variability. These challenges stemming from the incomplete process of decentralization continue to be a topic of national debate.
  • Accessing and interpreting localized weather and climate information is a challenge for municipalities with limited climate change expertise. In addition to material and human resource constraints, the channel for relaying weather and climate data from local stations to Antananarivo for analysis by the national meteorological agency is inefficient and incomplete.
  • The practice of local development planning is inconsistent and varies widely across Madagascar’s municipalities. Local plans are often developed by consultants whenmunicipalities can afford to engage them, resulting in plans that fail not only to articulate a strategic vision that resonates with residents, but also to propose feasible adaptation solutions and detailed budgets. The resultant plans are too vague to be a useful framework for local development and improved resilience.
  • The realities of limited capacity and finance as well as the immensity of the challenges that Madagascar faces in providing for even the most basic development needs mean that the role of DRM, community development, and service provision is simply delegated to development partners working across the country, with little oversight from local governments.
  • Supporting municipalities to identify options for collecting revenue, and accessing external resources and financing is a critical part of investing in urban resilience. Local governments collect only a fraction of their potential revenues due to an unclear legal framework, poor awareness and enforcement of tax and nontax revenue regulations, and challenges in tax collection. Capacity of municipalities to prepare proposals and provide financial and technical information to support grants or loans is extremely limited.

Opportunities for engagement at the local level

  1. Improve the availability and accessibility of climate information tailored to the specific and priority needs of municipalities. A major opportunity exists to facilitate closer collaboration between weather and climate data users (e.g., local planners, transport and logistics companies, agribusinesses) and data providers (the national meteorological agency). Currently, users are not given the appropriate avenues to provide feedback to the national agency on how the data they provide are used, and the national agency and regional meteorological services offer weather information without local context. Improved linkages between the national agency and key entities that operate at a subnational and municipal level could generate a feedback loop through which critical information for urban resilience is shared and disseminated.

  2. Support an integrated approach to CCA within municipality planning and budgeting processes. In general, local development plans and budgets are drafted without being informed by robust or comprehensive climate change vulnerability assessments. Facilitating multisectoral workshops—with participation from regional agents of the national disaster management office, the meteorological agency, and the national climate change office—at strategic points within regional and local development planning processes could encourage broader buy-in for adaptation objectives. In addition, introducing participatory budgeting could help build capacity and transparency around municipal projects, encouraging greater contribution from taxpayers to fill funding gaps.

  3. Harness best practices and lessons learned to scale those experiences. Positive and effective efforts to restore mangrove forests, protect sensitive habitats, improve waste management services, provide technical assistance to farmers, and stabilize dunes have taken place throughout Madagascar. However, scaling these efforts requires addressing several challenges, including 1) extreme poverty and isolation, which limit people’s awareness of, interest in, or economic ability to take up adaptive practices, and 2) a limited framework for knowledge sharing. Facilitating communication between communities and administrative entities across regions can increase the flow of lessons learned among municipalities, and help municipalities identify mutually beneficial opportunities to develop climate-resilient infrastructure. In addition, Madagascar’s longstanding experience with sister-city arrangements could provide a viable platform for disseminating best practices.

  4. Support municipalities to identify and access finance that can be used for climate action. Municipal governments are charged with providing many public services, but have little control over cash flow, as most revenue is retained at the level of the central treasury. Urban resilience requires means and mechanisms by which local governments can leverage private investment and in-kind cooperation, and generate (and retain) some revenue at the local level to support adaptation and risk management. Local governments may not understand the procedures for accessing central funds for development available via the Fonds de Développement Local (FDL), for example, and the FDL may dismiss proposals that demonstrate strong potential to increase community resilience because resilience indicators are not a part of the evaluation rubric. In addition to strengthening capacity for competitive grants, facilitating linkages between local governments and private sector actors, who are showing increasing interest in supporting local CCA, can generate innovative public–private partnerships to improve resilience.

Suggested Citation

Lee, V. and Zermoglio, F. (2018) Building Urban Resilience to Climate Change: A Review of Madagascar, Climate Change Adaptation, Thought Leadership and Assessments (ATLAS) project, United States Agency for International Development

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