6 April 2009

Madagascar: A Cyclone in a Political Storm

Johannesburg — Aid agencies and Madagascar's disaster management authority, which has been paralyzed by months of political turmoil, are scrambling to asses the damage after tropical cyclone "Jade" struck on 6 April.

According to Tropical Storm Risk (TSR), a forecasting consortium supported by the UK's Meteorological office, Jade made landfall in northeastern Madagascar as a category 1 cyclone and is projected to weaken when it veers south along the east coast of the island.

"We still have no data - assessments are still underway and the situation remains unclear," Dia Styvanley Soa, spokeswoman for Madagascar's disaster management authority (BNGRC), told IRIN.

Styvanley said accounts by people in the northern parts of the country hit by Jade in the morning - Maroantsetra, Mananara-Nord and Antalaha - revealed considerable damage, with trees uprooted and electricity and water supplies cut off in most areas.

Aid agencies were also awaiting further reports. "At the moment we don't have much information on the impact," Krystyna Bednarska, head of the World Food Programme in Madagascar, told IRIN. The harsh weather conditions have made it impossible for helicopters to be dispatched to affected areas.

Concerns over capacity

The Indian Ocean Island has been reeling from a political storm of its own making since January 2009, and Bednarska raised concerns over Madagascar's capacity to manage the natural disaster. "Because of the situation, national institutions have been quite non-operational," she said.

The political infighting that ousted President Marc Ravalomanana and replaced him with his rival, Andy Rajoelina, who is backed by the military, has drawn international condemnation.

Aid agencies are warning that the ongoing humanitarian crises - caused by a severe drought in the south, rocketing food prices and the aftermath of two other cyclones - are already being sidelined.

In a cyclone season that starts in December and runs into April, Madagascar has already been hit by two tropical cyclones: "Eric" struck the east coast on 18 January, followed by "Fanele", which made landfall on the west coast two days later. Extensive damage and flooding across the island affected more than 60,000 people and left more than 4,000 homeless.

Styvanley said the BNGRC could "function properly" in the current political situation "at this stage of collecting data and information", but would quite possibly run into serious difficulty if it had to deliver food and humanitarian assistance.

BNGRC's emergency stocks and "food items in storage in some of those regions where Jade passed were burgled during the political crisis," Styvanley told IRIN, and the national radio system, "an important tool for us in emergencies" had stopped broadcasting. "Remember, the national radio was [set alight] during the political crisis."

TRS said a storm of Jade's strength at landfall meant that at the very least, Madagascar could expect damage to building structures and flooding from heavy rain.

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

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