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European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations

Madagascar: EU response to cyclone Batsirai

When Cyclone Batsirai hit her village 20 km upcountry from Madagascar’s east coast, Valentina, 22, and her husband, could do little but hold on to the wooden support poles of their simple hut.

“It was like a long howling scream”, she explains. “Everything shook, children screamed. Never in my life have I experienced anything like it”.

Since the cyclone struck, the EU was there to help. Learn Valentina’s story through the eyes of our colleague Mathias, from the EU’s humanitarian office in Kenya, and see how EU emergency response helped those affected by the disaster.

EU staff arriving in Madagascar
© European Union, 2022 (photographer: Mathias Eick)

Valentina was relatively fortunate: her small hut made from wooden poles and bamboo mats with a roof of coconut leaves survived relatively unscathed. But many of her neighbours were less lucky, with their huts shredded by the cyclone winds.

The nearby Protestant church and large Catholic school lost their roofs, constructed out of iron sheeting. But they consider themselves lucky as nobody in their village was killed. Others were far less fortunate.

Cyclone Batsirai hit the east coast of Madagascar on 5-6 February 2022, with winds gusting up to 230km/h. The cyclone dumped torrents of rain, cutting a swathe of destruction through central Madagascar from East to West, killing over 120 people, and causing widespread flooding. Over 500,000 people were affected, and around 271,000 people needed assistance.

Mobilising emergency support

I met Valentina together with 3 colleagues from the EU’s Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO). From our Regional Office in Nairobi, Kenya, we tracked the storm as it approached Madagascar over several days.

On 9 and 10 February 2022, the EU charted planes to carry an EU Civil Protection team, EU Humanitarian Aid experts, and colleagues from various aid organisations such as the IFRC, UN and other international NGOs to Madagascar as quickly as possible.

Small airplane standing ready to depart
Departure to the affected zone of Mananjary
© European Union, 2022 (photographer: Mathias Eick)

With the help of the UN Humanitarian Flight Service, a plane then took us from Antananarivo to one of the worst affected areas in and around the coastal town of Mananjary.

As we slowly made our way through this small seaside town, we saw trees that had snapped like matchsticks under the force of the wind. People milled around schools and other public buildings, trying to clear the debris of twisted metal roof sheeting and branches.

The water and electricity supplies had been cut, but fortunately, the mobile phone system survived, allowing us to start mapping the extent of the damage. Aid agencies and the local authorities exchanged information and assessment.

It quickly became apparent that the most significant challenges were shelter and food, while damaged roads and lack of heavy vehicles would be some of the major challenges humanitarian actors would face.

Sylvie Montembault, from EU humanitarian aid, explains: “The people have clearly been traumatised, but they are also showing tremendous resilience. They are removing debris and rebuilding their homes with local materials. Speaking to them, they need support by providing food, shelter material and basic medical assistance to treat diseases such malaria in the coming weeks and months.”

People underneath umbrellas in a square
Population affected by the cyclone
© European Union, 2022 (photographer: Mathias Eick)

EU response to cyclone Batsirai

Within 72 hours, the EU’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre was assisting over 60 firefighters from France and Germany to deploy 2 large portable water filtration systems. The aim was to provide thousands of litres of drinking water to affected communities in and around Mananjary.

14 Civil Protection experts from 6 EU countries were deployed by the EU in the first phase of the operation, assisting the coordination of the international relief effort to Madagascar.

EU humanitarian aid was also well placed to assist, as we already have several humanitarian partners in the country helping communities following the drought in southern Madagascar.

In 2021 alone, we provided €12 million to partners who are now able to extend some of their activities to areas affected by the floods. An additional €1.85 million in emergency funding has also been made available to help the country address the repercussions of the cyclone.

Aid workers talking to local people
© European Union, 2022 (photographer: Mathias Eick)

The assistance will focus specifically on fast delivery of multi-purpose cash transfers to address the shelter and food needs of the people in need and on the set-up of mobile clinics, and the provision of mental health and psychosocial support. It will also help reinforce the preparedness and logistics capacities at the local level.

Many people, such as Valentina, have started to rebuild their homes using local materials.  Reconstruction homes may proceed quickly but food will be needed in the coming months, given the damage caused to crops.

While aid agencies race against time to meet basic needs such as food and shelter, Dr Rina, chief doctor of the local health centre in Mananjary, worries about how quickly the damage to his clinic can be repaired. “The roof is gone and water destroyed most of my medical equipment and medicine stocks,” he explains. “Without a new roof soon, how can I treat patients under these conditions, with new storms that may hit us soon?”

The doctor’s concerns may be realised sooner rather than later, as weather satellite images showed, another major storm approaching at the time of writing.

For Madagascar, climate extremes are becoming a permanent feature, with the north and central regions suffering from increasingly powerful cyclones and the southern regions from years of drought.

Publication date: 05/04/2022

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