Last week, Madagascar once again found itself on the front line of a climate related shock with severe flooding following a tropical storm that affected 107,000 people. Locally led collective action has previously strengthened rapid response to crises, allowing remote communities to lead their own recovery. A case study in the peer-reviewed Journal of Disaster Risk Studies provides compelling evidence for this, following the devastation of Tropical Cyclone Haruna (Mohan et al, 2020).
When extreme weather events take place, remote coastal communities are amongst the hardest to reach with emergency relief, and therefore among the most vulnerable. The intensifying of climate shocks and growing public concern has added urgency to the search for grassroots solutions to future extreme weather events. The recent IPCC special report on the ocean and cryosphere cited the increased risks faced by coastal communities in the face of climate change. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has appealed to its members to increase measures to mitigate climate change risks, in the light of the current flooding in Madagascar.
In February 2013, Tropical Cyclone Haruna, the most powerful cyclone that southwest Madagascar had experienced in more than thirty-five years, made landfall, causing widespread destruction. Against a background of disaster, the remote coastal communities in Befandefa and Morombe in the southwest of the country, heavily dependent on fishing for both their food and livelihoods, quickly coordinated and mobilised a locally led rapid response that met the immediate needs for shelter, food and medical treatment.
Analysis of what happened immediately after the cyclone suggests that this locally led response minimised the impact of the cyclone. A decade earlier, Blue Ventures, a marine conservation NGO, began working with the people of Befandefa and Morombe. The initial work developed into an integrated programme that combined sustainable conservation of marine ecosystems with livelihood diversification and community-based health services in a multisector approach. This holistic approach helped to address the health needs of the underserved community and increased their capacity to take part in environmental stewardship.
Blue Ventures supported community members to set up their own association to manage their marine resources through Madagascar’s first locally managed marine area (LMMA). This community led decision-making body was ideally positioned to respond rapidly to the post-cyclone conditions by coordinating activities, mobilising vital resources and acting as a link with the Government.
Local women who had been trained as community health workers (CHWs) were quickly able to provide information, medical supplies and health care to remote villages cut off by flood waters, greatly reducing the risks posed by the crisis.
The social capital, relationships, values and trust that were gained through combining health and conservation in southwest Madagascar proved to be a powerful tool during Cyclone Haruna. This allowed the community to lead their own recovery, and demonstrate evidence of community resilience.
Given the escalation of climate change crises globally, disproportionately affecting the poorest communities, we believe scaling up this holistic approach to other regions can provide a grassroots solution to build community resilience to climate shocks.
For further information please contact Ngaio Bowthorpe, Communications Manager at [email protected]
Read the article in the Journal of Disaster Risk Studies.
Mohan, V. & Hardee, K., Savitzky, C., 2020, ‘Building community resilience to climate change: The role of a Population-Health-Environment programme in supporting the community response to cyclone Haruna in Madagascar’, Jàmbá: Journal of Disaster Risk Studies 12(1), a730. https://doi.org/10.4102/jamba.v12i1.730
Blue Ventures is an international marine conservation non-governmental organisation that works with coastal communities to help rebuild tropical fisheries and catalyse community-led marine conservation.