Natural disasters in Madagascar: past and future risks
Madagascar is a promising and gaining popularity as a tourist destination. Every year the number of people who come to the country to relax on the beaches of the Indian Ocean, get acquainted with the culture and customs of the aborigines, and admire the beautiful nature increases. They should find out in advance what natural disasters or catastrophes they may encounter. A natural disaster always comes unexpectedly, but knowing about its potential, you can prepare for it.
Climatic features of Madagascar
Madagascar is the fourth-largest island on the planet. It is located in the tropical zone of the Indian Ocean, near the coast of East Africa. The climatic conditions of the island are greatly influenced by seasonal winds blowing in the tropics: trade winds. There is also a significant influence of warm ocean currents that circle Madagascar in an arc from the north and go through the Strait of Mozambique.
Therefore, the island has a very warm, tropical climate. Due to the large size of the island and the heterogeneous topography, the climate varies from wet monsoon on the east coast to arid on the west coast. While the lowlands of the east coast receive a lot of rainfall, the west receives very little.
The year in Madagascar consists of two seasons – dry winter (June-August) and humid summer (December-February). From November to April, the island is periodically hit by tropical cyclones originating in the central Indian Ocean. Cyclones cause the most problems to the inhabitants of the island.
Madagascar is located on an ancient platform, a microcontinent that broke away from India many millions of years ago and approached Africa. The interaction of the Madagascar and African plates can be accompanied by earthquakes or volcanism.
The long and low-lying coastline in the east of the island can suffer most from storms, hurricanes and tsunamis.
This is also where the densest forests grow and can catch fire during dry periods.
Natural factors that can cause a natural disaster:
- Seismic activity. The collision of tectonic plates can cause earthquakes, the threat of which is quite high.
- Extended coastline. Can be exposed to storms, cyclones, tsunamis. The East Coast is particularly affected.
- Volcanism. There are currently no active volcanoes in Madagascar, but there are a significant number of extinct ones. The danger of eruptions is currently minimal.
- Seasonal hurricanes and storms. Intensify from November to April and can cause coastal damage along the east coast. The West Coast, washed by the Strait of Mozambique, is less prone to storms and cyclones.
- Heavy rains. Can cause short-term flooding and overflow of numerous rivers.
- High mountains and plateaus. Increase the likelihood of landslides and rockfalls, threatening transport links and settlements.
- High forest cover and hot climate. Forest fires are likely to occur and spread.
The importance of studying the history of natural disasters
The history of natural disasters is important information to learn before travelling to your chosen country. Knowing the potential dangers that may be awaiting you will not only help you choose the right place, but also the time and season of the year when the threat of being in the epicentre of a natural disaster will be minimal.
For example, knowing that the season of tropical cyclones and rains, when floods most often occur, begins in late October and lasts until early May, you can choose a different time to travel to Madagascar.
In this article, you will learn the chronology of natural disasters that occurred in the republic in the past.
Despite the fact that Madagascar is located in a seismically active zone and every year about 500 earthquakes are recorded here, strong among them almost never happen.
Thus, the strongest for the last 50 years was the earthquake of 4 October 1985, which occurred near the capital Antananarivo. Its magnitude reached 5.6 points, but there were no destructions and even less human casualties.
On 21 April 1991, a similar earthquake occurred in the mountains west of the capital. Its magnitude was also close to 5.6, and again there were no casualties.
On 25 January 2013, earth tremors were felt by residents of the south-west coast. Their strength was 5.3 points, but there was no destruction.
One of the last strong earthquakes occurred on 13 May 2020. Its epicentre was located to the south of the capital, and the magnitude was 4.8 points. In the capital itself, the tremors were almost not felt.
Tsunamis rarely disturb the peace of the islanders, because active tectonic zones are thousands of kilometres away from Madagascar. But if a tsunami happens, it is necessarily a consequence of a catastrophic earthquake or eruption.
26 December 2004
The strongest tsunami of the last centuries occurred in the Indian Ocean after an earthquake off the coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The earthquake caused an underwater shift, which led to the formation of a tsunami.
A few hours later, the tsunami wave reached the north-eastern coast of Madagascar. It was strongly weakened by the coral reefs located in this place, and therefore the height of the tsunami was small. In addition, the local authorities had enough time to evacuate those who were in the most dangerous areas. Only because of this were casualties avoided.
There are at least six volcanoes in Madagascar that are now declared extinct, but have erupted intensely in the past. They are now popular tourist destinations.
The most active in the past was the Itasi volcanic field, located in the central part of the island. It consists of more than 10 volcanic cones, the highest of which rises to 1800 metres. The last eruption in the area occurred about 6,500 years ago.
Since then, there have been no eruptions in Madagascar.
Cyclones, storms and floods
The tropical cyclone season in the southwestern Indian Ocean begins in November and lasts until April. During this time, powerful cyclonic vortices form in the ocean, which periodically reach the eastern coast of Madagascar, bringing hurricane-force winds, heavy rains, causing floods and storms. Here is a list of the most destructive cyclones of recent years:
February 2020, Cyclone Gloria
In February 2020, two powerful cyclones hit Madagascar in succession, first Leon-Elin, then Gloria. They brought not only strong winds, gusting up to 200 kilometres per hour, but also heavy rains. The downpours washed out more than 80 motorways, disrupting communication between the north-eastern part of the island and the capital Antananarivo, damaged dozens of bridges and destroyed agricultural fields. As a result of the flooding, there were focal outbreaks of malaria and cholera, which only aggravated the situation. As a result, more than 10,000 residents were left homeless, 205 people died, and the total damage exceeded $10 million.
January 2022, Cyclone Batsirai
Batsirai, one of the most destructive cyclones of recent years, hit Madagascar in late January. Wind gusts reached 230 kilometres per hour. It easily felled trees, disrupted power grids and destroyed houses. More than 110,000 people were evacuated and 90,000 were left homeless. Heavy rains led to massive flooding, with more than 6,000 homes inundated. As a result, 120 people died.
February-March 2023, Cyclone Freddy
Cyclone Freddy was the longest cyclone in the last 100 years of records and also caused much distress to the islanders. It approached the coast of Madagascar twice, causing gale force winds and heavy rainfall. Authorities evacuated thousands of people in advance, but casualties could not be avoided. Half a million people were in the disaster zone, about 300 thousand people were affected. Seventeen people have died and three are still missing.
Drought and forest fires
Forest fires are common in Madagascar. They occur between May and November, when rainfall is minimal, even on the East Coast. These fires are not always caused by drought and hot weather. They are often the result of deliberate fires started by farmers.
In November 2015, for example, forest fires on the island were visible even from a satellite. Forests were burning in the north-east, in the centre of the eastern coast and in the extreme south. Most of the fires were agricultural in nature. They did not pose a threat to tourists or local residents.
Very often, forests are set on fire by illegal loggers, whom the state has been unsuccessfully fighting for decades. Due to their fault in 2009, 1300 fires were recorded on the island, and in 2011 – 1100.
The forests are burning even now. For example, in June 2023, strong fires engulfed the north-west of the island. Smoke from the fires reached even the Comoros Islands.
Drought of 2021
In mid-2021, an unprecedented drought hit southern Madagascar. Rainfall was at its lowest since as early as October 2020. This caused crop failure, with crops simply burning under the scorching sun. Almost 500,000 people were at risk of starvation. The situation was very serious, and many international organizations helped the starving people in every possible way. The total number of deaths is still unknown, but we are talking about tens of thousands of people.
The biggest threat to tourists holidaying in Madagascar is tropical cyclones and storms, which bring large amounts of rainfall and are accompanied by severe storms. These disasters can lead to significant flooding and casualties, and in the most popular tourist regions on the East Coast.
The risk of earthquakes on the island is also high. Although there have not been strong tremors here for a long time, their probability should be considered.
The risk of volcanic eruptions is minimal. All volcanoes on the island are listed as extinct.
There is a risk of tsunamis, but it is insignificant. Although under unfavourable circumstances, tsunamis can pose a real threat.
The risk of natural fires is high, but tourist areas are not affected by such fires.
The best time to travel to Madagascar is from April to October. At this time tropical cyclones stop, precipitation is minimal, and the temperature remains quite comfortable. The bathing season is in full swing, and the constant south-east wind brings decent waves for surfers.