by Riana Ravoala, Public Information Assistant-WFP Madagascar
For people living under the threat of cyclones in Madagascar, there is a sense of helplessness in the face of these natural phenomena - not knowing when, where or if a cyclone will strike - until it’s upon them.With the support of UKAid, (the United Kingdom Department for International Development DFID), the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is working alongside the government of Madagascar to enhance the preparedness and response capacity of vulnerable communities to cyclones. Every year, cyclones and floods destroy thousands of homes, crops and precarious livelihoods when fruit trees, livestock and fishing boats are swept away by floodwaters or destroyed by strong winds. The damage to roads, the degradation of natural resources (water, soil and forests) as well as coastal erosion increases vulnerability as isolated communities have limited access to assistance and their own ability to cope is rapidly reduced, resulting in deeper poverty.
When infrastructure such as roads are hit, people become even more isolated without access to food or medicine - until assistance is provided. Florence, a community health worker living in Tamatave, a cyclone-prone area along the eastern coast, had her roof blown off by strong winds when Cyclone Giovanna hit in 2012. She lost all her household items, leaving the family with three young boys in a desperate situation. Her neighbours on the outskirts of the village suffered even more when their homes were completely destroyed. Vital components of Early Warning Kits
A joint initiative by the National Risks and Disasters Management Agency (BNGRC), WFP and UNICEF aims to reinforce community preparedness at grassroots level. The distribution of early warning kits (including mobile phones with SIM cards for real-time information transfer by SMS, solar and/or crank radios and weather warning flags) means that vulnerablecommunities can receive timely early warning alerts and give feedback about crucial post-disaster needs and priorities to the BNGRC and other humanitarian stakeholders. A two-day training of local committees for risk and disaster management (CLGRC) on the equipment, emergency colour codes, the fast reaction matrix and developing local preparedness action plans also helps local communities take rapid informed decisions at the onset of a cyclone.Representing her village, Florence took part in the training: “We know we are the first responders during disasters. Receiving timely early warning alerts and knowing how to react - thanks to this training - could make all the difference for us at village level, since we are better equipped and prepared to respond to the next cyclone. “After this course we’ll organize a meeting with everyone from the village to tell them about preparedness activities like gathering food and candle supplies and designating a location on higher ground where people can seek refuge if we get flooded,” said Florence. Thanks to UKAid, 20 Districts, 95 Communes and 950 Fokontany in the most vulnerable districts across Madagascar received early warning kits, and 2,014 members of local committees benefited from the training sessions.