13 March 2007

Madagascar: Fourth Tropical Cyclone in Four Months, Nears the Coast

Johannesburg — Tropical cyclone 'Indlala' is projected to hit Madagascar on Thursday, but with the island still picking itself up after a string of natural disasters, government and relief agencies are already overstretched.

Erratic weather patterns have seen large areas of the northwest, west and southeast of the island flooded by torrential rains, while harvests in the south have been devastated by drought.

"[Indlala] is of significant concern, since it comes at a time when most [humanitarian] actors have already mobilised their existing in-country resources to respond to the food insecurity situation in the south, and to the flooding in the rest of the country," Stefanie von Westarp, spokesperson for the UN's World Food Programme in Madagascar, told IRIN.

Madagascar has been hit by a series of tropical storms and cyclones: 'Bondo' at the end of December 2006, 'Clovis' in January 2007 and 'Gamede' in February, causing considerable damage. Bondo hit the northwest of the island while "Clovis brought strong winds, heavy rains and flooding to the [southeastern] region of Vatovavy Fitovinany, [and] the passage of cyclone Gamede brought further heavy rains to the southeast," said von Westarp.

According to Meteo France, a satellite weather station of the French meteorological service on the neighbouring island of la Reunion, "world records of precipitation have been beaten" by Gamede, which brought the heaviest rainfall in 27 years.

This year's rainy season flooded large populated and cultivated areas; official estimates are that almost 33,000 people were displaced and 90,000ha of agricultural land were destroyed. The Malagasy government has appealed to the international community for US$242 million but has so far only received $1 million.

Indlala is just off the island's northeastern coast, but its predicted course will most likely take it down along the eastern coast past the country's second city, Toamasina.

Cyclones are difficult to predict von Westarp commented. At the end of February, tropical cyclone Gamede "was also predicted to hit Toamasina but then it deviated south; we will remain vigilant."

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]

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