The brick-red sediment in the lower reaches of the Betsiboka River highlights the various branches of the river in its estuary. In this scene the sediment-laden waters from upstream (left) flow toward the Indian Ocean (to the right). Despite its apparent beauty, this scene depicts a local environmental catastrophe. Deforestation upstream from this area is being undertaken to clear forests for farming (80% of the population is involved in agriculture). Once cleared of forest, the soil on the landscape is highly susceptible to erosion by rainwater. This is especially so in mountainous areas and in areas where soil conservation practices are not implemented. As the runoff from rainfall passes across recently cleared fields, it washes away the life-giving soil and carries it to the Betsiboka River, which ultimately carries it to the sea. Population pressure in Madagascar is likely a driving factor behind continued deforestation. It is estimated that Madagascar has lost 80% of its forests over the past century.
November 1984, image STS-19-34-40.