Vik Mohan: Madagascar’s Cyclone Haruna Showed Benefits of Integrated DevelopmentDecember 10, 2013 By Jacob Glass
When Cyclone Haruna swept across Madagascar last February, Blue Ventures, a marine conservation and community health organization, found themselves in a surprising new role. “We went from development, to aid, and back to development, in an integrated way we never expected,” said Medical Director Vik Mohan in an interview at the Wilson Center.
The cyclone – the worst in 35 years – left “thousands without homes or shelters, tens of thousands without clean water,” and resulted in an “overnight diarrhea epidemic,” said Mohan. Further, damage to local infrastructure handicapped the government’s ability to respond. “We felt no one else was there to support the community; that was our job,” he recalled. “We were really the only functional organization in the area.”
Blue Ventures mobilized relief for 17 villages in the remote Velondriake region of the island by the time many of the first relief agencies arrived in country. “Because we had that understanding and trust with the community, we were able to communicate and coordinate what was going to happen in the region, and because we had really good infrastructure for distributing products such as water purification systems and mosquito nets, we could distribute those things to where they were most needed really quickly,” he said.
Blue Ventures was recently awarded an Excellence in Leadership for Family Planning (EXCELL) Award at the International Conference on Family Planning. Though the award recognizes the effectiveness of the organization’s family planning initiatives, Mohan explains that it was the provision of emergency relief aid after Haruna that underscored for many in Blue Ventures the benefits of their integrated population, health, and environment (PHE) approach. “What that taught us was that having such good capacity, having such good infrastructure, doing development work in a holistic way, meant that when a crisis came, we could move in to aid,” he said.
Following the disaster, Blue Ventures reverted to its normal, community-based PHE initiatives, but with a newfound appreciation for the benefits that come from working in an integrated manner. “We try and work holistically and we try and address the whole system – that includes the people and the environment,” Mohan said. “The benefit of that is we can meet the challenges facing communities as they experience them.”
Video Credit: Sean Peoples/Wilson Center.