Cyclone Haruna response update (2)

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Families in Velondriake receive vital health supplies from Blue Ventures following cyclone Haruna

Blue Ventures is currently responding to cyclone Haruna which hit southwest Madagascar as a powerful category 2 storm on 22nd February 2013. For previous updates about the situation please follow the links here and here. Haruna is the biggest cyclone that this region has experienced in more than 35 years, significantly affecting communities in the Velondriake area where Blue Ventures works.

Since the cyclone hit three weeks ago, villages in Velondriake have been struggling to access clean water, wells have been contaminated by runoff mixed with rubbish and human waste, a significant proportion of the population is suffering from diarrhoea, and malaria is high risk because standing water is providing ideal breeding grounds for mosquitos; people sleeping out in the open since their homes have been destroyed are particularly vulnerable.

Blue Ventures’ community health team has therefore mobilised our well-established network of community-based distributors to provide remote villages in and around Velondriake – home to some 15,000 people – with vital health information and supplies including water purifying solution, diarrhoea treatment kits and insecticide-treated mosquito nets.

Families in Velondriake receive vital health supplies from Blue Ventures following cyclone Haruna
Families in Velondriake receive vital health supplies from Blue Ventures following cyclone Haruna

Last week we launched a special appeal and have been blown away by everybody’s generosity; within just three days we received enough to fund our immediate response! We are also continuing to fundraise in support of our longer-term health activities with the aim of sustainably reducing community vulnerability to future natural disasters.

Our logistics team has been working hard to procure water purifying solution, diarrhoea treatment kits and insecticide-treated mosquito nets from the capital city of Antananarivo and the regional centre of Toliara, which have been shipped to Morombe  (on every cargo boat going since the cyclone) and then transported to Velondriake by taxi brousse and motor boat – some arrived two weeks ago, some arrived earlier this week, and some are arriving tomorrow.

In the meantime, our community-based distributors have been sensitising their villages about key health issues, disseminating important information and distributing available supplies to priority groups across seventeen communities.

A community-based distributor explains how to use these diarrhoea treatment kits
A community-based distributor explains how to use these diarrhoea treatment kits

Our community health team has been busy gathering information on the most pressing health needs across Velondriake by visiting numerous villages as well as collecting reports from community-based distributors, health centre personnel, village leaders and Blue Ventures staff. We have now developed a comprehensive distribution plan based on these needs in order to reach twenty villages (including some of those that have already received some supplies) over the next two weeks with all of the supplies that we now have in Velondriake.

In addition to shock treating wells (dosing with chlorine and then pumping out), we are also partnering with the relief organisation ShelterBox to distribute 200 of their special water filters called Family LifeStraws, each of which can filter up to 10 litres of water per hour and has a lifespan of around 18,000 litres of water per filter. We are setting up filtering stations at contaminated water points throughout the commune of Befandefa, with multiple Family LifeStraws at each location that can be used by community members, supervised by designated people who will be trained in their use and responsible for storing them at night. We are also continuing to distribute water purifying solution to affected families as this is in very high demand, and fortunately we managed to procure 1,500 bottles of SurEau in Antananarivo this week following supplies becoming completely sold out in Toliara.

Community-based distributors give out water purifying solution (SurEau) to families affected by cyclone Haruna
Community-based distributors give out water purifying solution (SurEau) to families affected by cyclone Haruna

We are maintaining regular communications with the WASH cluster (the group coordinating the water and sanitation response to the cyclone) which includes UNFPA, UNICEF, CARE, CRS, WFP and ACF. Nevertheless, the Velondriake area remains largely cut off from outside assistance other than that provided by Blue Ventures. The road to Morombe has now opened up, but accessibility and transportation are still major challenges.

We believe that there is an internationally underreported yet extremely important story to be told about the devastating impact of cyclone Haruna in southwest Madagascar and the challenges of reaching the most isolated and vulnerable communities with vital supplies. We are therefore doing our best to act as the voice of the communities that we serve, and we are actively contacting news agencies including IRIN in order to provide them up-to-date information concerning the situation on-the-ground.

This whole experience is really highlighting to us the huge benefits of working in a holistic way and building capacity at the community level; it is thanks to Blue Ventures’ health expertise, our integrated Population-Health-Environment (PHE) approach, our strong community relations, our existing local infrastructure and the incredible support gathered through our special appeal that we have been able to respond to cyclone Haruna so quickly and effectively in such a remote location.

We have been able to continue our regular family planning clinics and community-based outreach services since the cyclone hit, and in the long-term we will be further strengthening our water and sanitation work in order to support the Velondriake communities to improve their health and thereby sustainably increase their resilience to future natural disasters.