Red Cross - Red Crescent respond to cyclones in Madagascar

News and Press Release
Originally published
By Anita Swarup in Nairobi

The continuing emergency situation in cyclone-hit Madagascar exemplifies a smooth operation by the International Federation, the Malagasy Red Cross Society and the Emergency response units working together efficiently.

As five consecutive cyclones rammed the Indian Ocean island off Africa's East Coast, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies responded immediately to the flooding and destruction by providing CHF185,000 from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) to support the Malagasy Red Cross Society. This contribution was followed by an emergency appeal for a total of nearly two million Swiss francs, enabling the Federation to assist the Malagasy Red Cross in relief operations targeting 60,000 persons.

This is through the provision of food and non-food items to minimize outbreaks of water-borne diseases promote hygiene and healthy practices and strengthen MRCS capacity. In addition, with the Federation support, the Malagasy Red Cross Society has created an operational alliance with the UNICEF and World Food Programme in order to harmonize the management of the available relief stocks in the zones.

Overall, the operation is going smoothly, not least to the admirable efforts by the Malagasy Red Cross volunteers," says Youcef Ait-Chellouche, the Federation's disaster magement coordinator in Nairobi returning from Madagascar. "The response to the emergency appeal has been good and we have established a close and productive relationship with both the Malagasy national disaster management body and other agencies working on the ground."

Cyclone Indlala hit the north-eastern coast of the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar on Thursday, 15 March 2007. With strong winds of up to 200 km/h, the cyclone ravaged the immediate area in its path (mainly Maraontsetra) and left considerable damage on the northeast and North West region. Cyclone Indlala was the fifth cyclone to hit Madagascar in a spate of a few months - the first time that the island had been struck by so many cyclones in such a short period.

Seasonal rains have been made worse by the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) moving slightly south, resulting in continuous rains - from the end of December 2006 to the present moment - and resultant flooding. Most recently, Cyclone Jaya hit Madagascar on 3 April 2007 causing further damage and displacement - but Jaya did not make significant impact compared to Indlala because vulnerable groups had already lost all their belongings during successive cyclone passages and related floods.

According to assessment conducted by the Malagasy government, 126,017 people were severely affected and in need of immediate assistance. Some 13,066 houses were completely destroyed, 91 public building damaged (including 29 schools), 35 bridges damaged, over 35,000 hectares of rice paddies and 12,006 ha of other crops destroyed. The Maraontsetra area, which is Madagascar's traditional productive farming area, was hardest hit, with 60,000 people affected. In addition, 80 percent of vanilla plantations, the country's main export earner, were destroyed.

Strengthening the capacity of the MRCS is one of the main objectives in managing this emergency operation. A regional disaster response team was sent in during the first days and is expected to continue with the distributions and support to the MRCS operation for a period of six months, as well as helping train volunteers, refine the selection of beneficiaries and offer coordination and support to the MRCS in the targeted districts.

An operations coordinator has been identified and deployed to the operation in time for a smooth handing over process from the Federation's international FACT team which is preparing to make an exit. Additionally, the Malagasy Red Cross Society is working towards developing a solid training module for regional coordinators from Sofia, Sava, Diana and Analanjirofo regions in Community Based First Aid (CBFA), Disaster Preparedness, Movement principles and governance.

The MRCS has extensive presence in all the affected areas, namely Analalava, Antsohihy, Befandriana, Mampikony, Mandritsara and Port-Berger and with a volunteer base of 1,000 who are ready for deployments around Sofia region. This advantage enables swift distribution of relief items and opens an avenue for inter agency coordination. Crisis groups are frequently created to boost coordination and efficiency during emergency responses.

Two Emergency Response Unit (ERU) teams have also been deployed in the North West of Madagascar to provide assistance in stocks management and distributions. These teams include a Logistics unit from the French Red Cross and a relief unit with delegates from the American Red Cross and Benelux Red Cross Partnership.

The two ERUs are based at Antsohihy. The French Logistics ERU is in charge of management of stocks coming from various humanitarian agencies, including food items from the WFP and non-food items from UNICEF and the Federation. The American-lead relief ERU is in charge of beneficiary selection and distribution of relief supplies to more than 110 villages, many of which are particularly isolated and vulnerable, in the affected area in collaboration with community leaders.