The most vulnerable populations are still the first victims of climate change in Madagascar.
Two weeks after cyclone Freddy swept the island from southeast to southwest, people affected by the disaster continue to live in unsafe conditions caused by rising waters in their neighbourhood.
The atmosphere is tense at the primary school of Ambohitsabo, in the city centre of Tuléar, in the southwest of Madagascar. The authorities have announced that students will be coming back to school, while around sixty people are still living on-site. These people have been affected by cyclone Freddy, which swept the region in March 2023. More than 500 people were temporarily housed in this school for two weeks. Most of them live in low-lying neighbourhoods, which systematically flood after strong rains. Tomorrow they will have to leave the premises.
“They told us to go home but, in my neighbourhood, the water still reaches up to my legs. My husband cannot support us anymore: he has not been able to fish yet because of the poor weather conditions”, explains Valentine, one of the mothers standing in the shade of a tree.
The community members look up when visitors show up, patiently waiting for a potential distribution of goods to help them survive. Most of them would like to stay a while longer at the school. “I am glad that my three children can restart school after three weeks of interruption. But I am worried about going home because these unsafe conditions can cause diseases, particularly in children”, explains Edmondine, whose children are enrolled in this same school.
Cyclone Freddy caused the death of 17 people and affected approximately 190,000 people in twelve regions of Madagascar. About 90,000 students, including Valentine and Edmondine’s children, had their education interrupted for a prolonged period because their schools were damaged by violent winds or flooded by rising waters.
Two girls move a nightstand out of their house to store it in a drier place
A builder installs a tarpaulin provided by UNICEF as a temporary replacement for the roof of a classroom blown away by cyclone Freddy.
A temporary latrine, provided by UNICEF, set up for evacuees on the site of Ambohitsabo.
At this site, the community members help each other to face the situation. “We try to support each other psychologically to overcome this hardship”, shares Edmondine. UNICEF and its partners work on the frontlines to provide essential services and address the needs of the population. This support has enabled social workers to take regular care of victims, particularly children, by providing practical advice to cope with the trauma. Medical and nutritional services were also available during the post-cyclonic period thanks to UNICEF.
“In this school, we installed facilities such as temporary latrines and hand washing stations because people need to keep their dignity. Now that the people affected will go back home, we must focus on restarting school and catching up on the academic curriculum” explains Sasany Idvertine, the school director. A tarpaulin provided by UNICEF was affixed on the roof of a classroom as a temporary solution, while waiting for more durable repairs. School kits will also be distributed to students whose school supplies were damaged.
Back home, Edmondine and her children have to face the harsh realities of their life. They will still have to wait a while before conditions improve. The sanitation services are hard at work to remove the dirty waters in low-lying neighbourhoods using the motor pumps provided by UNICEF. “The commitment of all actors to intersectoral coordination played a key role in the emergency response to cyclones. Thanks to the complementarity of our actions, we were able to respond together to the needs of the population”, says Jacky Randimbiarison, an emergency specialist at UNICEF Madagascar.
Reconstruction will start gradually but Madagascar has no choice but to adapt to climate change. While drought ravages the Great South, cyclones and floods lash several regions of the island. Building resilient infrastructure such as anticyclonic schools or water points in areas where access to potable water is limited will have to be priorities in coming years.