Madagascar is one of the most disaster-prone countries in Africa, particularly in terms of natural disasters. For decades, the country has been facing disasters with considerable damage, both human and material, resulting in significant economic expenditures that impact on its development. Faced with this, it is essential to fight to reduce the risks related to disasters in Madagascar. This is a scope fight in a country where the population and institutions are accustomed to external aid, and where the inhabitants are culturally unaware of the disasters that these catastrophes can actually cause.
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Reducing disaster risk: a challenge… A national challenge
Madagascar is a country exposed to various disasters, notably natural disasters. The Great Island is located in the most disaster-prone part of the Indian Ocean. From 1990 to 2015, a study reveals that the country has been subject to 63 cataclysms, meaning two natural disasters per year. These natural disasters caused $330 million economic damage and loss in 2008, or 4% of the national GDP. The Big Island needs $36 billion each year to face these bad weather conditions.
The natural disaster that most frequently strikes the island is the cyclone. Madagascar is the most cyclone-prone country in Africa.
However, the country is also subject to flooding, drought, landslides, locust invasions, and is at risk of exposure to tsunamis.
While the country has been frequently hit by disasters for almost 20 years now, in terms of the measures taken, the situation has hardly changed. Indeed, Madagascar has to constantly call on external aid to deal with natural disasters every year. Likewise, every year we face enormous material damage, especially in the provinces, and lose lives.
The heavy balance sheets have even become so usual that it would be more of a positive outcome that would shock the population, already accustomed to the headlines announcing “x deaths” and “x missing persons” with each disaster.
All this in front of the eyes of a Government that is aware that Madagascar is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the Indian Ocean, but which, it seems, does not have sufficient financial means or even a suitable strategy to proceed with disaster risk reduction, despite the existence of the BNGRC (the National Office for Risk and Disaster Management) and the IOGA (Institut et Observatoire de Géophysique d’Antananarivo), which are institutions dedicated to disaster risk management and reduction in the Big Island.
Only on last January 28th, due to heavy rains, some 30 people died and more than 16,000 people have been relocated.
The latest cyclone that hit Madagascar last December reports “2 deaths, 1.742 disaster victims, 1.472 relocated people, 55 huts flooded and 22 others destroyed for the “Boeny, Diana and Melaky” regions, as reported by the online newspaper Madagascar Tribune.
Yet actions have been taken in the country to reduce the damage, including awareness and education campaigns. This was the case 20 years ago, as Rakotomalala Hariliva, Secretary General of the Prefecture of Toamasina tells us. A tsunami simulation exercise was also carried out in Vatomandry some ten years ago.
In 2012, the United Nations Resident Coordinator, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Unocha) and the BNGRC conducted an awareness-raising campaign with the private sector to encourage greater engagement in humanitarian action. These measures relate more to risk and disaster management.
But despite all these actions, risk and disaster management and reduction remains a national challenge.
But this is not only a national challenge, it is an international challenge.
…But also international
Last January, I had the opportunity to participate in a training for journalists on disaster risk reduction, in Mombasa, Kenya
One of the things I learned there is that in all African countries, the problem remains the same: we face a cultural barrier, where the people remain oblivious of the importance of danger in terms of natural disasters, and a government dependent on external funding.
When I say unaware of the danger, it is not hyperbole. Despite the loss of human life that occurs with every disaster, in Madagascar, but also in other African countries, such as Malawi and even Mozambique, people have this way of thinking: “It only happens to others”.
Supporting this philosophy with beliefs that no one dies except on the day of one’s death, or that God will always be there to keep them, the population prefer to camp in their position rather than listen to the authorities, obey and be moved in times of disaster.
On the other hand, they are convinced that help will always arrive, in the worst case, so there is no point in panicking…
Governments, for their part, are more dependent on external aid and prefer to declare a state of emergency or national disaster rather than develop national strategies and policies to reduce disaster risk.
Of course, actions are taken, but they are not quite a big deal to avoid the losses that occur in every disasters period.
Why reduce disaster risks?
This question should not even be asked. It is clear that disaster risk reduction is necessary to avoid damage, both material and human.
This is not just the work of the government, state institutions, specialized agencies or certain entities. This is everyone’s struggle. We should already start by being aware of the smallest things: throwing our plastic bags into the drains already increases the risk of flooding… Building our houses on high up canals, etc… all this increases the chances of facing disasters.
And in all this, let us not forget that education is one of the key factors in getting this message across to a whole population. Indeed, people should be aware of the reality of the danger from an early age.
That’s how, associations and organizations have decided to integrate young people into disaster risk reduction programs and projects. As is the case in Madagascar.
(to be continued)
Translated by Naval Louivà