Madagascar: Severe flooding in southeast Madagascar threatens local population

from Medair
Published on 25 Feb 2011 View Original
Medair's emergency response team assesses flood-affected Ampasinmaleny commune following three days of heavy rain.

On the morning of Monday 14 February, Cyclone Bingiza struck northeast Madagascar and carved a narrow swath of destruction in its wake. Medair quickly sent an emergency team from Maroantsetra on motorbikes to assess the devastation but, surprisingly, they found relatively limited damage considering the cyclone's "category two" force.

"In some villages, we had the impression no cyclone had hit because the houses were already repaired," said Andry Tianarivelo, Medair's Deputy Project Manager. However, the team did discover significant damage to roads, bridges, and some infrastructure.

Bingiza Returns

Meanwhile, Bingiza hovered off Madagascar's coast, until Wednesday when it crossed back over the island as a tropical storm. Bingiza moved slowly this time, from the southwest coast to the southeast coast, and dumped large quantities of rain on an area already saturated with heavy rainfall from an earlier storm.

On Monday 21 February, a Medair team flew to Vangaindrano district and glimpsed widespread flooding in the region from their high-altitude viewpoint. The storms have flooded 19 of 29 communes in Vangaindrano, including the commune of Ampasinmaleny. Upon landing, Medair sent an assessment team to Ampasinmaleny using the motorbike it had packed onto the plane.

Extensive Damage

"My first concern is that I have had no contact over the past days with five of my villages," said Dominique Zonarivelo, the mayor of Ampasinmaleny.

Ampasinmaleny is home to 13 villages, with the five unheard-from villages apparently receiving the worst of the flooding. However, even in the mayor's home village, the damage is extensive. Many rice fields are underwater; consequently the community will certainly suffer from food problems in the next few weeks.

"We will need to wait many days for the water to recede so we can know if we have lost our rice crop," said Dominique. "We had planted manioc and taro (local root vegetables), but these too will probably be destroyed."

In the village, local residents carefully waded through the thigh-high water to cross a swollen river where a bridge had been washed away. The mayor led the Medair team down a path to show them a shadowy circle in the murky water. "Here," he said, "is the well."

The flooding has submerged Ampasinmaleny's wells, increasing the likelihood that residents will drink dirty water from the river, a serious health risk. "The mayor told us that people have been taught to boil water for 10 minutes," said Anne Hageman, Medair Deputy Country Director. "But he's not sure if people are doing it or not."

Medair is coordinating with other agencies to determine how best to respond to the emergency needs in the region, particularly to restore access to safe drinking water. "At first glance, we know the needs are here," said Andry. "But in terms of long-term WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) needs, it is still difficult to define the full scope of the damages."

A Longstanding Commitment

As a long-serving NGO in Madagascar, Medair works throughout the year to improve WASH access in numerous Malagasy communities while also running disaster-risk-reduction projects that aim to mitigate damages from the region's numerous storms and cyclones. These projects are funded by the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid department.

"Medair is ready to intervene during cyclone-related emergencies with a trained team that can be mobilised immediately," said Yves-Pascal Suter, Medair Country Director. "We also have ready-to-distribute emergency stocks. To best serve beneficiaries, we don't work on our own, but we coordinate our work in the most efficient way possible."

For now, Medair's team continues to gather first-hand information and identify the most vulnerable people in need of emergency assistance. "We want to see the other villages that are flooded," said Anne. "So tomorrow morning, we will trade in our trusty bike for a local canoe and paddle out to reach them."

More updates will follow as this emergency response develops.

Medair's current programme in Madagascar is supported the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid department and private donations