Catholic Relief Services responds after deadly storms hit Southern Africa


YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – A humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Southern Africa after Tropical Storm Ana and Cyclone Batsirai devastated large areas across Malawi, Madagascar and Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

“There is widespread flooding, displacement, damage to homes and loss of life in some countries. Flooding from the storm destroyed swaths of farmland at the height of the agricultural season,” said Carla Fajardo, Catholic Relief Services country representative for Madagascar.

She told Crux that CRS was working with other partners on the ground to respond to the crisis.

Node: How would you describe the extent of the damage caused by Tropical Storm Ana across Southern Africa?

Fajardo: The scale of damage caused by Tropical Storm Ana has been devastating to many communities in Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

There is widespread flooding, displacement, damage to homes and loss of life in some countries. Flooding from the storm destroyed swaths of farmland at the height of the farming season. This means that farmers have essentially lost not only their homes and crops, but also future income from the sale of their produce that would have paid for children’s school fees, medical bills or other household needs. It is particularly heartbreaking to note that in many countries of the region, we are witnessing a double catastrophe of drought and now floods. In Madagascar, for example, there has been an ongoing drought in the south and now flooding and high winds are displacing people, damaging homes and infrastructure in other parts of the country. Catholic Relief Services is helping families and communities in Madagascar, Malawi and Zambia recover from the impact of these storms.

With the passage of Cyclone Batsirai shortly after Tropical Storm Ana, what was the impact on the lives of the people of Madagascar?

Just two weeks after Tropical Storm Ana swept through Madagascar, the additional impact of the even larger Cyclone Batsirai came as a shock to an already strained emergency response system. Madagascar has a good emergency system in place, but when storms come and go it strains even the best systems. The greatest damage was caused to infrastructure and housing. Roads have been damaged and it has been difficult to get supplies and aid to those who need it most. In some areas, even churches, schools and other places where evacuees have been badly damaged and families are returning home to unsafe structures or taking shelter with family or neighbors.

It is also difficult that Cyclone Batsirai hit Madagascar at the same time as a tragic third wave of COVID-19. Only about three percent of Madagascar’s population is vaccinated, and boosters have only recently become available.

What would you attribute these storms and cyclones to and what can the world do to mitigate their impacts?

Storms and cyclones are a cyclical phenomenon in Madagascar. However, climate change has led to an increase in cyclones in the east, north and center of the island, and severe droughts in the south. The routes followed by cyclones have also changed. We now have more cyclones hitting parts of the country that historically were not hit by cyclones. Climate change is not the only culprit though, Madagascar’s high rate of deforestation leads to massive flood damage with every cyclone. There is an urgent need to focus on landscape restoration and better use of natural resources to protect the country’s flora and fauna and protect communities from the fury of the cyclone season.

What are the needs of affected populations?

The immediate needs of displaced people are safe shelter, food and drinking water, and access to medical services. In Mananjary, Madagascar, where the damage is particularly severe, the hospital that served the community was badly damaged. The roof is completely blown off and the walls are knocked down. It was not possible to evacuate patients, therefore doctors and nurses provide medical services in very difficult conditions.

As we move through the first few days, families and communities will need support to recover, rebuild homes, schools, hospitals and roads as well as rebuild and recover their livelihoods. Over 75 percent of the population are subsistence farmers and many have lost their farming tools, seeds and other farming resources. Farmland has been badly affected, so we will gradually shift from emergency response to recovery support. This recovery will include working with farmers to build their capacity to recover from shocks such as cyclones through agriculture and other income-generating supports. CRS will continue to support agroforestry and landscape restoration and work with the local church, youth, and local partners to meet the needs of the affected population.

In terms of disaster preparedness and response, is there anything CRS is doing or planning to do to help the hundreds of thousands of people stranded in the area?

In the days leading up to Cyclone Batsirai, CRS worked with local partners to prepare vulnerable communities for the expected damage. We shared alerts warning people and telling them how to prepare and provide building materials to help families strengthen their homes to mitigate damage before the cyclone hits.

Immediately afterwards, we are working with the most affected diocese of Mananjary to provide hot meals to those displaced by the cyclone and are coordinating with other dioceses for additional support.

We are currently carrying out rapid assessments and working with the government and other partners to deliver relief materials such as tarpaulins for temporary shelters, food, building materials and hygiene items such as soap and drinking water to affected communities.

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