Cyclone Gretelle Appeal (03/97)

Originally published

Cyclone Gretelle, which was of unprecedented violence (destroying national monuments, including churches and prisons), struck south-east Madagascar on 24 and 25 January 1997. It struck a particularly vulnerable population which had never experienced this type of catastrophe.

The Intended Operation

The damage was caused by wind in the North and rain in the South. The lack of means of communication means that the situation in the Southern zone was only evaluated belatedly. That is the reason for the delay in publishing this appeal. The whole population of the area is affected to varying degrees, with a total of over 520,000 victims.

An official appeal for international solidarity was launched on 28 January by the Madagascan Government during a meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with all the diplomatic missions and international organizations represented in Madagascar. In terms of relief and aid, the action envisaged includes:

=B0 Phase 0: evaluation, which is still going on at the present time;
=B0 Phase 1: first aid, basic foodstuffs, temporary shelter, the supply of drinking water, the establishment of a telecommunications network and information;
=B0 Phase 2: nutritional rehabilitation, the treatment of the water, reconstruction, restarting the cultivation of subsistence crops.

All of the these operations will be accompanied by training activities and evaluation. They will result in the development of national response capacities.

A coordination system for relief, established for preventive purposes following Cyclone Bonita in 1996, permitted a rapid reaction. Unfortunately, operational deployment and evaluation work have suffered from the weakness of the infrastructure and telecommunications.

The Cyclone

The cyclone reached the coasts of Madagascar during the course of 24 January 1997 at 1pm in Farafangana. Winds were registered locally at over 220 km an hour. The area was affected for over six days. As the meteorological station in Farafangana was destroyed, we have no data on rainfall. The cyclone is the most violent to have hit this area of Madagascar in living memory.

It only became possible to fly over the whole of the area on 28 January. It was only as a result of this aerial inspection that a preliminary evaluation of the damage to the area to the south of Vangaindrano could be made. Today the development of the situation is difficult to foresee in view of the uncertainty of the rate at which the water levels are falling.

Current reports show that the damage is considerable, including towns which are between 70 and 90% destroyed, paddy fields flooded with mud, buildings carried away and landslides.

By way of illustration, the winds destroyed nearly 90% of administrative and health-care buildings, as well as churches and prisons. Floodwaters are estimated to have reached between 11 and 16m. Moreover, the flooding resulting from the cyclone destroyed most crops and most of the available stocks.

The situation still needs to be evaluated in precise terms. Some 280,000 inhabitants have been cut off since the cyclone hit the country.

The figures, which are still provisional, report some 200 dead or disappeared and over 520,000 victims to varying degrees. This dramatic picture is worsened by the endemic malnutrition in the South of Madagascar, the lack of preventive measures with regard to natural disasters in this area, which is only exceptionally at risk from cyclones, and the custom of consuming surface water.

The fact that reserves are very low makes the population all the more vulnerable.

The Response so far

Government Action The Governments response was rapid and organized. The National Relief Council (CNS) is responsible for coordination. It organizes the work of a Committee, the Committee for Disaster Responses (CRIC), of which the principal members are the CNS, UNDP, UNICEF, USAid, the Malagasy Red Cross, Care and Médecins sans frontières.

A high level of national mobilization led to the raising of FMG130 million (around CHF35,000, which is to be seen in line with GNP) following a televised broadcast on 27 January.

Following the appeal for international solidarity, the French Government provided assistance in the form of a Transal aeroplane for the transport of emergency aid (much of which was donated by the Departemental Committee for La Réunion of the French Red Cross), as well as a helicopter to fly over the area.

Red Cross/Red Crescent Action - Malagasy Red Cross The Malagasy Red Cross, which is a member of the CRIC, participated in the preliminary evaluations through 15 of its volunteers (five sent from Antananarivo and 10 members of local committees).

It is administering bilateral assistance and donations:

=B0 Seychelles Red Cross: clothing (1 tonne), foodstuffs (20 tonnes of tuna)
=B0 French Red Cross: water treatment (14,000 tablets, disinfectant), medicaments
=B0 ICRC: six hospital tents and five stretchers.

These donations are currently being distributed in the Fivondronanas of Vohipeno, Farafangana and Vangaindrano, which are the only ones accessible by road.

During phase 0, the Malagasy Red Cross (MRC) was financed by an immediate subsidy from the French Cooperation Mission in Madagascar.

The President of the Relief Operations Commission of the Malagasy Red Cross was dispatched to the disaster area to:

=B0 Coordinate the action of the Red Cross local committees
=B0 Follow the work of the Malagasy Red Cross investigators
=B0 represent the Malagasy Red Cross at the CRIC operational centre in Farafangana
=B0 Ensure the distribution of donations and the installation of materials
=B0 provide liaison between the provincial and national levels

The Red Cross Committee at Fianarantsoa immediately launched an operation to distribute warm drinks, using volunteers. The Malagasy Red Cross is a key actor in the operational and evaluation work being undertaken in cooperation with the CNS, UNICEF, USAid, Care and Médecins sans frontières.

The Needs to be met

An estimate of needs is being carried out. This operation, which was initially planned for the first ten days, has been delayed by problems of land transport caused by the topography, flooding and weaknesses in telecommunications.

The principal needs can therefore be resumed as follows:

=B0 Phase 1 (first aid): basic foodstuffs, temporary accommodation, the provision of drinking water, the establishment of a telecommunications network and the provision of information on prevention.
=B0 Phase 2 (consolidation): nutritional rehabilitation measures, the treatment of water, reconstruction and restarting the cultivation of subsistence crops.

It is currently necessary to make use of air transport in order to carry out evaluations and provide first aid to the most isolated populations. However, air transport is rare both locally and in the region.

In the medium term, basic foodstuffs will be in short supply. The implementation of food aid programmes therefore has to be envisaged straightaway.

Objectives of the Malagasy Red Cross

The MRC intends to be involved at each level of the delivery of relief, both as a humanitarian organization and as an active member of the ICRC. In this respect, the MRC will focus its action on the Fivondronanas of Midongy and Befotaka, where there are 42,000 victims who are still completely cut off.

The MRC intends to play an important role in the implementation of the following programmes:

=B0 Identification and coverage of target populations by a programme of food distribution (17,000 victims), nutritional rehabilitation (2,600 victims), the distribution of blankets (2,500 blankets) and restarting agricultural production
=B0 Information on prevention (information dissemination programme)
=B0 sanitation (water treatment unit)
=B0 consolidation of the information network and the dissemination of information through mobile and other appropriate telephone links (VHF)
=B0 training
=B0 assistance in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of housing, including preventive measures for cyclones.

A bilateral Development Delegate of the French Red Cross, who has been based in Antananarivo for five months, has assisted the MRC to carry out its first action.

The Federations Regional Development Delegate, who is responsible for relations with French-speaking societies, has been dispatched from Nairobi to support the Malagasy Red Cross.

The MRC, in order to be able to carry out its mission as well as possible, will need to be strengthened by an Administration/Finance Delegate and by two Relief Delegates (one national and one expatriate).

It is also necessary to strengthen office equipment (two computers with a printer and a modem) and telecommunications (VHF network) to support evaluation and operational activities.

It will also be necessary to hire two 4X4 vehicles to support the two old and rather unreliable vehicles currently available to the MRC.

The MRC is taking direct action with international donors. In this work, it needs sister societies to provide assistance (European Community).

The affected areas of Vohipeno, Vangaindrano, Farafangana and Vondrozo are being covered by other members of the CRIC, such as Médecins sans frontières and Care.

Malagasy Red Cross/Federation Plan of Action

For the management of these programmes, the MRC is requesting an Administration/Finance Delegate and two Relief Delegates from the Federation.

For its part, the MRC will use its own means for the programme, including:

=B0 120 relief workers in the two Fivondronanas
=B0 administrative support
=B0 two 4X4 vehicles and light equipment

The implementation of a programme to supply food to the populations who are cut off in Befotaka and Midongy is currently being organized under the direction of the Red Cross, in cooperation with the armed forces and the national police. As soon as access is possible by land or by helicopter, this personnel will immediately and progressively be replaced by civilian workers.

At this stage of the evaluation, the MRC can only give an estimate of the cost, based on the data that is currently available. Provisional Budget
See Annex 1.


Faced with this new natural disaster which has struck Madagascar, the Malagasy Red Cross was very rapidly able to deliver emergency first aid through the deployment of substantial human and other resources.

Your financial support is more than ever necessary to continue this action and set up the programme of nutritional rehabilitation.

Margareta Wahlström,
Under Secretary General,
Disaster Response & Operations Co-ordination Division

George Weber ,
Secretary General


Basic foodstuffs for 17,000 victims 148'000
Nutrition rehabilitation for 2,600 children and adolescents 144'000
Blankets : 2,500 units 15'000
S/TOTAL 307'000
Miscellaneous supplies 35'000
Transport, storage, vehicle costs 112'000
Personnel 202'000
Transport & communications 128'000
Information/reporting 13'000
General and administrative expenditures 53'000
operational support 35'000
S/TOTAL 578'000
Note: Food and supplies can be purchased locally