When tropical storms in 2022 thrust Madagascar into an extremely vulnerable situation, they requested assistance from the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. Disaster response experts from all over Europe, including the Netherlands, travelled to the island to help. Advance preparation and a swift response protected people from suffering even more.
Climate change is making tropical storms more frequent, intense, and damaging. The 2021-2022 storm season in the South Indian Ocean was among the deadliest on record. In early 2022, Madagascar was hit by 5 consecutive tropical storms in 6 weeks.
The storms brought torrential rainfall, strong winds, landslides and storm surges. People were evacuated from their homes, and infrastructure and crops were damaged.
Record-setting storms killed an estimated 200 people, while more than 35,000 had to take shelter. Clean water supplies were also disrupted.
The EU’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) stepped in to help. The Centre coordinates the delivery of assistance from the 27 EU countries and 8 participating states in the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.
In this case, the ERCC ensured the EU response and organised the deployment of EU disaster response experts.
The work of the team was supported by long-term projects funded by EU humanitarian aid to educate local communities on what to do when a storm hits.
Thanks to these combined efforts, the situation was prevented from becoming even worse.
Preparing local communities
It’s hard to be totally prepared for an event like the storms that hit Madagascar. However, thanks to the work of Mirana R’Abel, a School Mobiliser Officer, students had a better idea of what to do — and not to do — to stay safe.
R’Abel works for Save the Children International, which is leading a disaster risk reduction programme as part of the EU-funded Vonona project.
When a storm hits, roads are flooded, and it’s dangerous for students to travel to school. She explained to the students that they should stay home when the water was too high.
“They can’t stay safe if they don’t know the risks. That’s why this is so important,” R’Abel explains.
R’Abel explained the risks present during and even after a storm. Thanks to her work, students stayed home safely and weren’t hurt trying to cross high rivers and washed-out roads on their way to school. This meant that the disaster response teams on the ground could focus on helping other people in need.
We’re stronger when we respond together
When disaster response experts from across the EU — the Netherlands, Finland, Italy, France, and Sweden — landed in Madagascar, there was no time to waste.
Their Deputy Team Leader, Erie Braakhekke, is an expert from the Netherlands with a background in behavioural science. She knew the team needed to bond to work as a united team and help those in need.
“We didn’t have much time, so I asked the flight attendants if we could have a meeting on the plane,” explains Braakhekke.
Thanks to her proactive thinking, they were able to get to know each other and start planning. When they landed, they got straight to work providing clean water and setting up temporary medical centres to help people injured during the storms.
With buildings destroyed, roads damaged by landslides and bridges impassable, this was no easy task.
As well as working with her team on the ground, Braakhekke frequently communicated with the ERCC. The Centre pooled information from multiple sources, while also keeping an eye on more potential tropical storms through the EU’s satellite mapping systems.
The team worked well together, but it’s not necessarily easy bringing experts from diverse backgrounds together.
“That kind of diversity can make working together more challenging, but it’s also a great strength. We all bring something to the table – expertise, a point of view, an idea – and we’re stronger when we’re all there, working together,” she says.
Education and preparedness are crucial to ensuring that communities that regularly face extreme weather can survive the storms and respond effectively. This is why the EU allocates more than €75 million of its annual humanitarian funding to targeted preparedness actions.
This funding includes investing in projects like Vonona, which aims to reduce avoidable deaths and injuries caused by weather hazards. Along with creating disaster risk reduction plans that help keep students safe, the programme trained artisans to construct traditional houses that meet anti-storm standards.
By investing in early warning systems and strengthening national and local response capacities, the EU helps countries like Madagascar be prepared.
In 2021, the EU invested €76 million in 101 disaster preparedness actions in 30 countries.
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