Batsirai, a violent cyclone that formed in the Indian Ocean and reached a speed of 145 miles per hour, hit Madagascar, killing at least seven people and displacing 45,000 people. The storm destroyed homes and caused power outages on the island nation’s west coast, which is now bracing for flooding. The World Food Program (WFP) warns that up to 150,000 people could be forced from their homes as a result of the cyclone.
This is the second time that Madagascar has been hit by a cyclone in as many weeks. On January 25, Cyclone Ana, which also hit Malawi and Mozambique, claimed 80 lives (including at least 42 in Madagascar) and displaced up to 130,000 people.
The unusual pattern of catastrophic weather events hitting the same location so close together is linked to climate change. It is also an example of the inequality of climate change, in which the countries hardest hit are usually those that have done the least to cause it.
Low emissions, high losses
Besides the immediate destruction of homes and infrastructure, one of the most worrying results of cyclones is their impact on crops. Damage from rain and flooding compounds the effects of temperature changes, which are associated with food production shortages and rising prices. In Madagascar, where GDP per capita is less than $500 a year, a third of the population struggles with food shortages.
The country is also among the least responsible for carbon emissions per capita. But it will be poor countries, many of which are already struggling with adverse weather conditions, that will suffer the most severe consequences of worsening climate change.
Among the crops damaged by the cyclones is the most important in the country: vanilla. Madagascar produces 80% of the world’s vanilla and has experienced a few years of economic growth following a rise in the value of the spice. But vanilla, an orchid vine that grows on trees, takes three years to grow, so any damage to plantations will have lasting effects on the economy. In 2017, when Madagascar was hit by Enawo, a cyclone similar in strength to Ana and Batsirai, 30% of the vanilla crop was damaged.
The push for climate justice
The damage in Madagascar shows the urgency of the climate justice framework advocated for, under which countries with high emissions should provide reparations to those who pay the consequences for them.
According to this idea, the international non-profit organization Oxfam claims that the United States, for example, owes $2 trillion to countries that are losing resources due to climate change.