Madagascar: Red Cross Red Crescent responds to cyclone and Chikungunya outbreak

Published: 1 April 2010 0:00 CET

Mbola Ranaivomanana, Malagasy Red Cross in Madagascar

It was near midnight when the tropical storm Hubert hit Madagascar’s Mananjary district, on the night of 10 to 11 March 2010. 200,000 people were affected. Even before making landfall, Hubert had already caused heavy rains in several districts of the southern part of Madagascar. The water rose fast and in no time the roofs of thousands of houses in Manakara and Vohipeno were no longer visible.

Massive damage

In the worst hit areas, the storm left a wake of destruction: more than 83 people were killed, 132 wounded and 34 are still missing. The rain waters swept away 7,000 homes leaving more than 52,855 people homeless.

The Malagasy Red Cross Society immediately mobilized more than 350 volunteers. Together with two colleagues from the Indian Ocean regional disaster response team, they conducted assessments and embarked on emergency operations in seven of the most affected districts. Safe water and sanitation kits are still urgently needed.

"We are very concerned that almost the complete population in the hardest hit areas lack access to safe water. The risk of outbreaks of waterborne diseases remains very high and we plan to focus our efforts on water and sanitation activities," said the Malagasy Red Cross President, Claude Rakotondranja.

Focus on prevention

To support the Malagasy Red Cross’ plans, some 280,000 Swiss francs (266,000 US dollars or 197,000 euro) were disbursed by the International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent (IFRC) from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF). The money will assist some 25,000 people for three months, through the distribution of food, family kits, water treatment tablets and mosquito nets.

The French Red Cross also offered its support. With the help of the French National Red Cross Society and together with the Armed Forces, the Malagasy Red Cross and other agencies were able to reach districts cut off by floods with urgently needed emergency equipment. The Spanish Red Cross also offered more than 28,000 Swiss francs (27,000 US dollars or 20,000 euro) to support the operation.

At least 90,000 hectares of rice paddies and crop fields were submerged in flood waters due to the tropical storm leaving endangering the livelihoods of thousands of villagers. To prevent the situation from getting worse, the Malagasy Red Cross, together with the World Food Program, started a small, local project in which Red Cross volunteers will be providing the framework for a program that will benefit the local communities.

Fighting the Chikungunya outbreak

The rains brought by cyclone Hubert also meant that it has gotten more difficult for the local communities to control the Chikugunya epidemic that has been ravaging the Mananjary districts for several months now. Since the Chikugunya mosquitoes breed in water, the flood waters have increased their habitat.

“Chikungunya patients suffer from high fever and asthenia which keeps them bedridden for two to three days. The nonspecific symptoms like massive headache, joint pain and photophobia can last for about a week. The more painful arthralgic consequences (affecting joint and extremities) can last for several weeks or months affecting people’s livelihoods where schools, local and national economies can be severely affected, “ explains Jessie Kanhutu, the IFRC’s Health and Care Coordinator for Eastern Africa.

The Malagasy Red Cross Society obtained emergency funds from the IFRC to fight the disease and to deliver immediate assistance to 44,000 families. Close to 1,000 people have so far been treated at the local health centres

Activities focusing on door to door awareness and sanitation are already under way. An insecticide spray program has been rolled out to eliminate mosquito breeding places.