Since the establishment of the state of health emergency a little over a month ago due to Covid-19, environmental crime has intensified, especially in forests and protected areas. An observation of civil society organizations and the Ministry of the Environment. The Voahary Gasy Alliance, which brings together organizations working for the protection of biodiversity, published a press release on Tuesday April 28 to warn about this phenomenon.
Coal mining, crops of cereals, cannabis or even mining in protected areas, cutting and trafficking of precious wood, sale of turtles in danger of extinction … The Big Island was already suffering from these scourges, but they have intensified since the crisis (social and economic) caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. A phenomenon that can be seen in almost the entire territory, indicates the Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development, Baomiavotse Raharinirina.
“There are a lot of people who are in great economic precariousness and therefore there is an upsurge in acts of environmental crime. There is more than 75% of rural population and these people have easy or direct access to the resources that are available nearby and therefore they go directly to forests, parks, protected areas. Quite recently, we had a lot of intrusions into protected areas to try and harvest plants following the launch of the Covid-Organics remedy, ”says Baomiavotse Raharinirina.
But this is not the only problem, continues the minister: “In parallel with this movement, there is also a temptation for traffickers to evacuate stocks of precious wood which they had hitherto hidden because they were prohibited. . He has the feeling that the state will be more focused on the health crisis. There are a lot of attempts to evacuate rosewood, ebony and rosewood from the Boeny and Betsiboka regions, in the west, to the Comoros. ”
Receive all international news directly in your mailbox
A zero tolerance campaign has been launched in each region to try to curb these crimes. Eviction operations were carried out with the help of the police in the protected areas but “the regional environmental directorates work with very few resources”, explains the Minister of the Environment.
“As in all poor countries, the poorest people always look to available natural resources whenever the opportunity arises. But they are encouraged by the traffickers who take advantage of the minimum service of the administration at the moment to plunder natural resources. The Ministry of the Environment is doing what it can with the means it has, but justice must also follow afterwards ”, underlines Ndranto Razakamanarina, president of the Voahary Gasy Alliance
For this platform, which brings together around thirty civil society organizations involved in the defense of the environment, zero tolerance is not always applied by the courts because several traffickers have turned out to be officials or influential local personalities, continues Ndranto Razakamanarina.
“There are those caught red-handed who say they know people in high places. There are corrupt officials and there are also those who traffic. For example, this clerk of justice and seller of protected turtles arrested in March. The sentence he received was not the same as his predecessors, that is to say a penalty of imprisonment. Lead by example and that is zero tolerance: equal law enforcement for all. ”
In addition to its investigators and informants in the field, the platform has set up a toll-free number, 512, which allows citizens to denounce environmental crimes. 120 people have been prosecuted for environmental crimes since the start of the state of health emergency, specifies the Ministry of the Environment.