Madagascar, officially the Republic of Madagascar (older name Malagasy Republic), is an island country located in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa. The nation comprises the island of Madagascar (the fourth-largest island in the world), as well as numerous smaller peripheral islands.
Madagascar is the world's fourth biggest island after Greenland, New Guinea and Borneo. Because of its isolation most of its mammals, half its birds, and most of its plants exist nowhere else on earth.
The island is heavily exposed to tropical cyclones which bring torrential rains and destructive floods, such as the ones in 2000 and 2004, which left thousands homeless.
At least 65 people were killed and 70,000 left homeless by the latest tropical storm to hit Madagascar, disaster officials have said.
The official report into the impact of Cyclone Irina said the south-eastern Ifanadiana district was most badly hit with landslides and floods.
Nearly the size of California and Oregon combined; it is a wonderland of nature: goggle-eyed lemurs, delicately perfumed orchids, baobab trees that seem stuffed into the soil upside down. By most estimates, 80 percent of its plants and animals exist nowhere else on earth.
Madagascar is an island nation in limbo. A 2009 coup, in which the opposition leader toppled the country's President with army backing, has created a stalemate with no single party able to form a transitional government. While travel advisories don't caution against visiting Madagascar, they do remind you that unrest still breaks out sporadically — mostly in and around the capital, Antananarivo.
The assessment also showed an alarming 40 percent of Madagascar's terrestrial reptiles are threatened. The 22 Madagascan species currently identified as critically endangered, which include chameleons, geckoes, skinks and snakes, are now a conservation challenge, researchers say.
Madagascar is one of 17 signatories to the January 2009 Djibouti Code of Conduct, which is aimed at tackling piracy and armed robbery of ships in the Gulf of Aden and western Indian Ocean. But pirates have simply extended their operations closer to Madagascar.
“They are coming farther and farther south with more attempts on boats. About five months ago they tried a fishing boat in Madagascar’s waters,” says Madagascar’s Transport Minister Rolland Ranjatoelina. Amid a 70 percent shortfall to government spending and a transitional parliament still in place from a 2009 coup, Mr. Ranjatoelina says Madagascar can not tackle maritime security of this nature.
And Madagascar is a place that desperately needs investment. More than 70% of the population live on less than $2 a day.
Agriculture is the mainstay - the country exports coffee and vanilla among other things.
But one of the big economic hopes is oil. Onshore and offshore deposits, while not huge, could bring some future prosperity to Madagascar.
In its animated Hollywood incarnation, the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar is a natural paradise whose white sand beaches surround a lush tropical jungle populated by lemurs. And the Dreamworks picture of Madagascar's natural wonders is largely borne out by reality. It's the humans that are the problem.
Since late January, Madagascar has been convulsed by a power struggle between the President Marc Ravalomanana, 59, and opposition leader Andry Rajoelina, 34. Clashes between supporters of the two men have cost at least 135 lives.
The word Madagascar comes from Marco Polo, who misheard the name of Mogadishu, in Somalia, and applied it by mistake to this island 250 miles off the coast of Mozambique. Giant hissing cockroaches live here and lizards that scream. Monkey-like lemurs dance like ballerinas and sing songs of eerie beauty. Eighty per cent of Madagascar's wildlife and plants are found nowhere else. The people are called Malagasy, not Madagascan, and their country is one of the poorest in the world.
The government of Madagascar has been struggling to raise finance since the country’s political crisis in January, in which current president Andry Rajoelina deposed the sitting administration led by Marc Ravalomanana. This was condemned as a coup by many Western leaders. Millions of dollars in foreign aid have been withdrawn and a decline in the country’s lucrative $390 million-a-year tourism industry has taken place as a result.
Irina also caused death and destruction in Mozambique and South Africa, but not on as large a scale.
An earlier storm, Giovanna, killed 35 and left 240,000 homeless on Madagascar, according to the latest figures. Giovanna struck Madagascar Feb. 14.