Madagascar needs jobs and foreign exchange, but its unique and awe inspiring forest will die if a planned RTZ mine is allowed to operate. Richard Dowden, of Britain's The Independent newspaper, reports on the dilemma facing the country - wealth without beauty, or beauty maintained through poverty.
The death of the environmental campaigner Andrew Lees in a forest in southern Madagascar on New Year's Eve suddenly drew attention to the approaching environmental disaster enveloping Madagascar and much of Africa with the disappearance of the rainforest.
Mr Lees died of a heart attack in a remote forest while he was investigating a plan by a large multi-national mining company in the area. Ironically his death drew attention to the project to mine several million tonnes of Titanium Dioxide from the sands around Tolanaro, Fort Dauphin, destroying most of the forest he died in.
The British press has simply presented the issue as saving the forest, but the project will also mean an investment of $350m in Madagascar by the company, Qit Fer, a subsidiary of the multinational giant Rio Tinto Zinc. The company will also build a new harbour, a factory and a power station and create more than 500 direct and up to 1500 indirect jobs in the area. It will transform the region for ever, but it is changing anyway and the mine is the only chance for the investment and employment which might save the area from poverty.
Madagascar is special. When you look around you there, three quarters of the plants and animals you see are unique to the island. About 165 million years ago Madagascar split away from Africa and has been developing on its own ever since. In the last fraction of that time, a mere 2,000 years, man has arrived, changing the face of the land irrevocably. Already 85% of the forest which once grew on the island has been cut down. If you fly over it in the rainy season, Madagascar looks like a land bleeding to death from a thousand cuts as its red soil is washed down into the Indian Ocean.
Some of its animals, the elephant bird and the little hippopotamus for example, have already disappeared and many more species are threatened. In the littoral forest which will be mostly destroyed by the RTZ mine, there are at least 28 species unique to that piece of forest.
For outsiders, particularly in western cities, this is a call to arms. The mining company must be stopped. But they are open to the criticism that while they use up vast amounts of the world's...