GENEVA, 14 February 2012 - For the second year in a row, Valentine's Day on the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar has been marked by the arrival of a tropical cyclone. Cyclone Giovanna made landfall on the east coast shortly after midnight, bringing torrential rain and reported wind speeds of up to 231 km per hour.
One death has been reported so far in Brickaville where unconfirmed reports indicate severe damage to the local hospital and many people rendered homeless. In the capital, Antananarivo, power has been cut off and drivers ordered to stay off the roads.
Last year, Cyclone Bingiza also hit the island on February 14, and killed 14 people and destroyed nearly 6,000 homes over the course of five days. Schools for over 7,000 children were damaged.
The imminent arrival of Cyclone Giovanna injected an unusual dose of reality into the work of an evaluation team from the UK's York University which arrived on the island a week ago to assess the impact of UNICEF and the Ministry of Education's Disaster Risk Reduction, Preparedness and Response programme.
Yesterday, Dr. Sean Deely, Deputy Director of York University's Postwar Reconstruction and Development Unit (PRDU) was at a school in Analangirofo, close to where the cyclone was expected to make landfall and said: "It was amazing to see the kids preparing for the cyclone and the extent of their knowledge."
Before we lost mobile phone contact, Dr. Deely told UNISDR that the team had visited two schools in the lead-up to the arrival of Giovanna.
"We knew that there was a possibility of a tropical cyclone. Two storms have already passed through the Mozambique Channel since the beginning of the season.
"It's very interesting to see how the project has been implemented with a range of partners. They are training Ministry of Education staff at national and district level and they in turn train the teachers in the schools and the teachers then pass on the key messages to the kids on disaster risk reduction and preparedness measures for tropical storms, floods, tsunamis, forest fires and other hazards. The children go home and pass the messages on to their parents.
"There's a good understanding of the key role that children can play as messengers in the community and, critically, there is a strong focus on how to get the children back to school quickly once it's safe even if it means re-starting classes under a tree."
Following tropical storm Hubert in March 2010, UNICEF provided 48 temporary classrooms and repaired 90 classrooms and distributed 328 "school-in-a-box" kits benefitting some 37,000 children.
Work to rehabilitate educational infrastructure in emergencies forms a major part of UNICEF's activities in Madagascar. It also provides remote disaster-struck areas with a temporary shelter to enable schooling to continue. This so-called Tarpa Tent has a wooden frame strong enough to withstand a cyclone.
The torrential rains that hit Madagascar's capital city of Antananarivo can be seen in the footage below:
14 Feb 2012
United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction - Regional Office for Africa (UNISDR AF)