MADAGASCAR: A cyclone and no money on the horizon

News and Press Release
Originally published
JOHANNESBURG, 7 January 2010 (IRIN) - A tropical cyclone will "probably" hit Madagascar on 14 January, but a funding shortfall means the enormous Indian Ocean island maybe more vulnerable than usual.

According to Madagascar's Meteorological office, "tropical cyclone Edzani is progressively intensifying in the Indian Ocean . 3,100 km off the coast . [and] will probably make landfall on 14 January 2010."

Madagascar lies in the main path of storms crossing the western Indian Ocean and is battered by cyclones every year; five have struck it in the last two years, affecting over 463,000 people.

The UN Country Team raised concern over the approaching cyclone season in November 2009, when it appealed for US$6 million in urgent funding to pre-position emergency supplies in the most vulnerable regions of the country.

But "we didn't get anything. There has been interest, but no money," said Pierre Bry, Senior Humanitarian Affairs Officer at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Madagascar.

"Unfortunately it makes sense given the political situation," he told IRIN.

Political unrest that began in January 2009 ousted President Marc Ravalomanana and replaced him with his rival, Andy Rajoelina, who was supported by sections of the military. The resulting disengagement by international donors has had an impact on aid flows.

During the past year, humanitarian agencies have exhausted their emergency stocks in responding to drought in the south, and cyclones that hit the island in early 2009. According to a November 2009 UN Country Team statement, "losses of supplies related to the political crisis" have not been replaced.

Bry said the capital, Antananarivo, was particularly vulnerable to flooding during cyclone season. If a serious one hit the island "up to 20,000 people could be at risk," he noted.

Dia Styvanley Soa, spokeswoman for Madagascar's disaster response agency, BNGRC, was more optimistic. "Madagascar will be ready," she told IRIN.

"Instead of prepositioning food items in regions, this year, we will buy directly what will be needed in the affected regions," Soa noted. It was not clear whether the government had the necessary funds to purchase the food, shelter and emergency items or whether they would be available locally.

According to John Uniack Davis, Country Director of the Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE), an international aid agency, "the probability of any specific storm system hitting Madagascar is relatively low, but the cumulative probability of a direct hit in January or February is relatively high."

"After last year's relatively light season, the various emergency actors here fear that this year's season could be worse. As Edzani approaches and the path becomes clearer, we will have a better sense of the probability of a direct hit on Madagascar's coast," he added.

Cyclone season usually starts in December and runs through April, affecting some of the poorest regions of the country; around 70 percent of Madagascar's people live on less than a dollar a day.