02/04/2013 - It was the morning of February 22 when tropical cyclone Haruna slammed into the southwest coast of Madagascar, bringing with it heavy rains and winds topping 170 km/hour. But she did not stop there; continuing on across the entire big Island, leaving many villages and communities flooded in her wake.
Madagascar’s west coast is much less exposed to the risk of cyclones, however, it also means residents are more vulnerable as they are not used to such disasters.
Government figures indicate that more than 40 000 people were affected by the cyclone which caused 26 deaths. More than 7 400 homes were damaged or destroyed and critical infrastructure such as schools, government offices, health centres and roads was damaged. In Tulear, the main city in the southeast, a dam break flooded several districts, forcing the mass evacuation of thousands of people. Heavy damage was also done to maize and rice crops.
About 200 volunteers with the Malagasy Red Cross – many of whom were also affected by the flooding -,sprung into action. They provided assistance to their neighbours, coordinated the evacuations, managed temporary camp settlements, and provided psycho-social support where needed. They handed out items like blankets and tarpaulins, and helped to provide clean water. With contaminated water still coursing through the streets or stagnating in small ponds, there is an increased risk of diseases like malaria, cholera and acute diarrhoea. Red Cross volunteers consequently engaged in hygiene campaigns in the camps to reduce the risk of such illnesses.
“We are here to tell them they are not alone,” said Jeanne Berthine, a volunteer with the Malagasy Red Cross branch in Sakaraha. “We know people are under a lot of stress, so we try to make it as easy for them as possible. We educate them on hygiene and health, but also on issues such as gender-based violence.”
The Platform for Regional Intervention in the Indian Ocean of the French Red Cross (PIROI) was activated, and delivered 35 tons of materials by ship directly to Tulear. Materials included 1,500 housing kits and water treatment centres. The European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) co-financed the emergency response with over €85 000 for the country, replenishing the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies funds to deal with small scale disasters.
The main needs continue to be temporary shelter, food, water and sanitation. As the situation evolves from day to day, Malagasy Red Cross volunteers continue to put others’ needs before their own, conducting assessments to get the true picture of the gaps that still exist in the service. “These people need our help,” said Berthine. “They are our neighbours. We cannot abandon them when they need us most.”
Katherine Mueller, IFRC and Amintsoa Razafimanantsoa, Malagasy Red Cross Society