After Cyclone Haruna, Blue Ventures Leverages Its PHE Program for Disaster Response in MadagascarMarch 28, 2013 By Laura Robson
Balbine is moving through her coastal village of Andavadoaka with a sense of urgency. Normally she works as a community-based distributor for Blue Ventures’ integrated population, health, and environment (PHE) program in southwest Madagascar, providing health information and products to her community. However, since Cyclone Haruna swept through the region several weeks ago, Balbine has been especially busy distributing diarrhea treatment kits to mothers caring for sick infants, providing families sleeping out in the open with mosquito nets to protect against malaria, setting up water filtering stations, and emphasizing the importance good hygiene practices.
One of the key points raised at a recent Wilson Center event exploring the social dimensions of resilience was the importance of social capital in underpinning community responses to disasters. We have certainly found this to be the case with Cyclone Haruna, as having strong social networks already in place enabled our partner villages in southwest Madagascar to efficiently organize themselves and address their pressing health needs with our support.
Cyclone Haruna, which made landfall on February 22, was the biggest cyclone to hit southwest Madagascar in more than 35 years. Tens of thousands were affected by the storm, with the most vulnerable being the many small rural villages, which are extremely isolated from outside assistance. Blue Ventures works with some of the most remote of these coastal communities, where poverty intersects with high marine biodiversity and the need for health services and other infrastructure is great. When Haruna hit, our team was able to rapidly distribute vital health information and supplies to more than 20 remote villages in the Velondriake area, some 200 kilometers from the nearest city, Toliara.
Moving From Reactive to Proactive
In the wake of Haruna, villages have been struggling to access clean water, as wells have been contaminated by runoff mixed with rubbish and human waste. A significant proportion of the population is suffering from diarrhea. Malaria is also a high risk because standing water is providing ideal breeding grounds for mosquitos, and some people have been forced to sleep out in the open since their homes have been destroyed.
Dr. Vik Mohan describes Blue Ventures’ integrated programming
Thanks to Blue Ventures’ existing PHE program, our well-established network of community-based distributors, and our strong local infrastructure, we have been able to quickly and effectively deliver a robust response to these challenges.
In the short term, we are providing affected communities with vital health information and supplies including water-purifying solution, water filters, diarrhea treatment kits, and insecticide-treated mosquito nets. This experience at the front-line of disaster response is really highlighting the huge value-added benefits of working in a holistic way and building capacity at the community level. By working through our network of 33 highly motivated community-based distributors, Blue Ventures is reaching many more villages than if we relied solely on our small health team.
In the long term, Cyclone Haruna has prompted us to consider how we can further strengthen our on-going PHE program in order to nurture community resilience to natural disasters and support community adaptations to climate change in southwest Madagascar.
For example, we have seen how open defecation – common in all of our partner villages – leads to wells becoming contaminated by floodwater following storms. Communities are clearly recognizing these links too, so working with them to improve sanitation is a major priority for Blue Ventures going forward.
We are also planning to provide our community-based distributors with smart phones that have customized software to aid clinical decision-making and facilitate reporting to our staff. These will also provide a much-needed means of gathering and disseminating information during future disaster preparedness and response situations.
Our PHE program is based on the understanding that poor health, population growth, environmental degradation, unsustainable natural resource use, and food insecurity are interconnected challenges. Evidence suggests that unmet need for family planning can also contribute to climate change vulnerability. We therefore believe that an integrated PHE approach can help build resilience to storms like Haruna and other natural disasters.
We know that offering reproductive health services to women and girls enables them to complete their education and go on to pursue a range of livelihood activities. Furthermore, empowering couples with the information and means to freely choose the number and spacing of their births results in a healthier population that can better manage their natural resources. These important outcomes of family planning provision have been identified as key building blocks of adaptive capacity.
Blue Ventures’ permanent presence in the region will enable us to transition our emergency response into a longer-term capacity building effort, with our integrated PHE approach underpinning this work to ensure that our partner communities are empowered to become more resilient to natural disasters in the future. So hopefully, when the next cyclone rolls over Madagascar’s southwestern coast, the communities we work with will be healthier and better equipped to respond – in a word, more resilient.
Photo Credit: A well in the Velondriake area of southwest Madagascar surrounded by floodwater, used with permission courtesy of Blue Ventures.