“Back then, we used to believe that strong cyclones were brought by the Vazaha (the foreigners) and that we need not to prepare. But through a series of awareness raising, following the series of strong cyclones we experienced, we realised the importance of disaster preparedness and that the changing climate is the reason why cyclones become stronger than ever,” a Malagasy village elder leader says.
In recent years, Madagascar, an island country in the Indian Ocean, has been affected by long-term drought and battered by successive cyclones which become powerful and deadly in a changing climate.
In January 2009, the coastal town Morondava, in western Madagascar, was swept away by cyclones Fanele and Eric which left thousands of Malagasy homeless and damaged their source of income. Cyclone Fanele struck Madagascar two days after Cyclone Eric.
13 years after – in February 2022, another two devastating cyclones hit Madagascar with just two weeks of interval. The communities that were hardest hit by Tropical Cyclone Batsirai were the same communities that were impacted by Tropical Cyclone Emnati, leaving the families homeless.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Madagascar has been vulnerable to disasters induced by natural hazard such as drought, flooding, and cyclones. A cyclone alone affects an average of 700,000 Malagasy people out of the nearly 29 million inhabitants based on the recent demographic projection.
“It is true that some Malagasy people, particularly those living in remote villages, used to believe that cyclones are brought by foreigners visiting or living in the country. They do not believe that a cyclone is a meteorological phenomenon” Patricia Razafindrafara, a Disaster Risk Reduction Project Manager of Medair.
To raise awareness and improve the disaster preparedness measures of Malagasy people in western Madagascar, Medair has provided awareness raising and training on disaster preparedness for the villagers affected by a series of cyclones.
In late 2022, over 180 villages were trained on four elements of the Early Warning System by understanding the existing risks through participative mapping (1), monitoring, forecasting, and warning services of risks (2), effective and efficient communication and dissemination of alerts (3), and strengthening the capacity for the people to respond (4).
“Tips on disaster preparedness have opened my mind to respond and have developed our skills. With the training I attended, I have known how to alert my family and neighbours whenever there is a cyclone approaching,” a Malagasy village elder leader Redady Razafimandimby, says.
Redady, 54, a father of eight is one of the villager leaders in one of over 180 villages trained by Medair on disaster preparedness.
He added: “Medair and its partners helped guide us in designing a multihazard map. We have identified the risks and hazards in our village, the possible evacuation sites when we need to evacuate and the flag alerts that we need to raise in preparation for an approaching cyclone. »
Redady is convinced that disaster preparedness is one of the keys to mitigating the damaging effect of a cyclone. « Being a trained village leader, I take responsibility for informing the population to prepare. I wear my vest and take out the megaphone to inform my neighbours to alert and take preparation measures while the cyclone is approaching. »
Following the training, Redady has started to share with his neighbours what he learnt from the training. According to him, with what he learned from the training, he realised that he would rather spend his time and resources on preparation than on rehabilitation.
He added: “My family and the entire village had been severely affected by previous cyclones. Our house was flooded with hip-deep water. We didn’t have guidance and help at that time. I no longer want to repeat the difficulty we went through.”
To strengthen the confidence of the villagers like Redady, Medair has equipped the village by providing radio, whistles, and alert flags to the villagers and trained them on the measures to take to be prepared (e.g. weighing down the roofs with sandbags, evacuate to safe location). At the national level, Medair has worked with BNGRC to send alerts to the population at risk and has trained selected Malagasy people to be part of Medair’s Emergency Response Team.
The project was implemented by Medair in close coordination with Madagascar’s state agency on disaster management, the “Bureau National de Gestion des Risques et des Catastrophes” (BNGRC). The European Union funded the project.