According World Bank’s estimates, over four million Malagasy live in zones at risk of cyclones and floods. The cyclones that hit the country in 2014 and 2015 damaged more than 40,000 hectares of rice fields, destroying two small dams and hauling large amounts of sediment into the fields. Homes, schools, and health centers were damaged or destroyed, and gaping holes dotted the few paved roads in the region. Most of the dirt roads and trails were rendered unusable and dangerous. The lost crops led to an immediate jump in inflation, from an average 6% in 2014 to 7.9% in March 2015.
Damage from the cyclones will continue to have a longer term impact as the sedimentation in the rice fields hamper yields for years to come. An estimated average of seven billion Malagasy Ariary (or $2.2 million) is needed to rehabilitate irrigation schemes after each cyclone.
Such large-scale destruction and detrimental economic consequences spurred the Government of Madagascar and the World Bank to action. Over the past two years, the two have partnered to adapt irrigation infrastructure to climate change. The first step was to develop new norms for irrigation schemes that would better resist cyclones. These hydraulic infrastructure construction norms, that are flood resistant, provide guidance on how to incorporate flood evacuation into irrigation plans and how to use materials adapted to the soil. A set of laws were then passed to insure that the implementation of these norms is compulsory.
These norms have already been put to the test. While they increase the cost of construction of irrigation schemes by 50 to 150%, they also increase resiliency as the infrastructures ultimately resisted better. Given the positive results, the International Development Association (IDA) funded Emergency Infrastructure Preservation and Vulnerability Reduction Project (PUPIRV) has rehabilitated and upgraded 12 dams and related channels in six regions of the country following the new anti-cyclonic norms.
The southeast region of Vatovavy Fitovinany was battered by three cyclones between December 2014 and February 2015. The two irrigation schemes of Ankararaina and Betampona – which had been built according to the new norms – endured them without any significant damage. Worried farmers let out sighs of relief and were able to quickly return to work.
However, “climate change is not only about preparing for and responding better to weather-related disasters. It is also about rethinking a country's development strategy so that it strengthens the resiliency of people's livelihood and the economy," notes Coralie Gevers, World Bank Country Manager for Madagascar. Adapting irrigation infrastructure, which effects a significant majority of the Malagasy population, is helping to do just that.