Economic development and infrastructure of Madeira Island

Wealth and poverty: Contrasts on a small island.

When a tourist visits Funchal and especially the luxury hotels and villas near the Lido in Sao Martinho, there will be no signs that poverty prevails on Madeira.
As you visit the fishing village Camara de Lobos, to the West of Funchal, the contrast between rich and poor becomes however very clear.
As soon as the tourist parks his car near the small and old houses that are packed together on a rock, some children dressed in rags may come begging for some money.
The main street looks very busy and poor dressed men sit or stand in groups together. They talk to eachother and stare at the tourist while others play billiard in what looks like a local cafe. Only a few of them are drinking a beer because most of them can't afford one.
While this may leave an unusual and threatening feeling, there is hardly any criminality on Madeira and its population is very friendly.

Also in Santo da Serra a remarkable gap between rich and poor can be observed.
This place is well known for its golf courts. Nice roads, a beautiful park and villas make the village look like a trendy place.
But once outside of the village, farmer woman and unwashed children try to sell their goods at the side of the roads to Portela or Camacha. Some fruit, carrots and flower bulbs belong to the assortment.
Life on Madeira is not easy for the farmers. At the steep sides of the mountains, they try to use every square meter, and most of the work is done by hand.
One would wonder if this is really Portugal, if this is really a part of Europe.

Support of the European Union for further economic development.

In general, the economy of Madeira is getting better and better.
With money and support of the European Union, things have already improved a lot for this autonomous region of Portugal.
In the year 1988 Madeira was still one of the poorest regions in the Union with the gross domestic product (GDP) per head being only 39.9% of the European average.
10 Years later this was fortunately risen to 57,5%.

We don't have more recent figures, but the new roads and new infrastructure seem to show a positive trend.

A few questions may arise however. How much of the European money will reach that part of the population that really needs it? How to ensure that the gap between rich and poor will not become any bigger?
Our impression remains that a big part of the population is still very poor.

Current projects on Madeira - New infrastructure and roads.

Development of the Via Rapida.
With support and money of the European Union, the Via Rapida (highway) is still under construction.
In 2006, the highway already reached from Funchal to Santana and from Funchal to Ribeira Brava. When the the road will reach Ponta do Pargo, in the Southwest of the Island, this project will be completed.
The main purpose is to have all parts of the island within easy reach from the airport so that tourism would not be limited to mainly the Funchal region.
Personally i believe that most tourists will still prefer Funchal for they holiday resort due to the larger availability of luxury hotels. The highway will allow to easily visit other places but what about all the small shop owners that can now be found along the secondary roads? If nobody passes their houses anymore, then i fear they will be doomed to disappear.

Villages are made more attractive for tourists.
The village of Porto Moniz is a nice exemple of the further development of Madeira.
This place got a real facelift in 2004.
A nice esplanade was constructed alongside the sea and beach bars allow for a drink while watching the magnificent coast line. The roads were renewed and roundabouts decorated with flowers.

The coast road in the North is renewed with lots of tunnels, making it easier to drive from Sao Vicente to Porto Moniz. (Note that the old road is still accessible and recommended as a tourist attraction).

While Porto Moniz has become a beautiful place, hotel rates and prices at restaurants remain low compared to Funchal.
Most likely this is due to the fact that the worser climate in North Madeira may appear less attractive for tourists.

Artificial sand beaches.
Madeira is making efforts to attract the fans of sun, sea and beaches.
Originally there were no sand beaches on the island, except a few smaller ones such as Prainha in a bay near Sao Lourenco.
But in Ribeira Brava and Calheta, brand new artificial sand beaches arise with sand that was imported from the Sahara desert.
While these beaches are not very big, they may drive additional tourists to these places.
However, those expecting long beaches should go to the neighbouring island of Porto Santo that can be reached by boat or airplane.

The impact on prices for real estate on Madeira.
A not so positive consequence of the economic development and modernization of Madeira, is that the prices for land and houses are rising very fast. This is also true for places far away from Funchal. People expect this trend to continue when the highway is completed.
The number of real estate businesses is rising. They target tourists and investors from the UK and other European countries looking to buy a holiday villa or apartment.
While 170000 to 200000 Euro for a holiday villa on Madeira may still be cheap for Western European standards, it leaves to wonder what the Madeirans with an average income of only 600 Euro per month are thinking about this price evolution.