YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – A humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Southern Africa after Tropical Storm Ana and Cyclone Batsirai devastated vast areas across Malawi, Madagascar and Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

“There is widespread flooding, displacements, and damage to homes and loss of lives in some countries. Floods from the storm destroyed expanses of farmland at the peak of the agricultural season,” said Carla Fajardo, Catholic Relief Services’ Country Representative for Madagascar.

She told Crux that CRS was working with other partners on the ground to respond to the crisis.

Crux: How would you describe the extent of the damage that has been caused by Tropical Storm Ana across Southern Africa?

Fajardo: The extent of damage caused by Tropical Storm Ana has been devastating in many communities across Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

There is widespread flooding, displacements, and damage to homes and loss of lives in some countries. Floods from the storm destroyed expanses of farmland at the peak of the agricultural season. This means farmers have essentially lost not only their homes and crops but the future income from selling their produce that would have paid school fees for children, medical bills or met other household needs. It is particularly heartbreaking that in many countries in the region you see dual disasters of drought and now floods. In Madagascar for instance, there has been an ongoing drought in the south and now floods and fierce winds displacing people, damaging homes and infrastructure in other parts of the country. Catholic Relief Services is supporting families and communities in Madagascar, Malawi and Zambia to recover from the impact of these storms.

With Cyclone Batsirai hitting soon after tropical storm Ana, what has been the impact on people’s lives in Madagascar?

Barely two weeks after tropical storm Ana swept through Madagascar, has the additional impact of the even bigger cyclone Batsirai been a shock to an already strained emergency response system. Madagascar has a good emergency system in place but when storms occur back-to-back it stresses even the best systems. The greatest damage has been to infrastructure and housing. Roads have been damaged and it has been difficult to get supplies and aid to the people that need it the most. In some areas, even the churches, schools and other places where people evacuated have been severely damaged and families are going back home to unsafe structures or sheltering with family or neighbors.

It is also challenging that cyclone Batsirai hit Madagascar at the same time as a tragic third wave of COVID-19.  Only about three percent of the population in Madagascar is vaccinated and booster shots have only become available recently.

To what would you attribute these storms and cyclones and what can the world do to mitigate their impacts?

Storms and cyclones are a cyclical phenomenon in Madagascar. However, climate change has led to increased cyclones in the eastern, northern and central parts of the island, and severe droughts in the south. The routes the cyclones follow have also changed. We now have more cyclones hitting areas of the country that historically were not affected by cyclones. Climate change is however not the only culprit, Madagascar’s high rate of deforestation results in considerable damage from flooding with each cyclone. There is an urgent need to focus on landscape restoration and better use of natural resources to protect the flora and fauna of the country and protect communities from the fury of the cyclone season.

What are the needs of the affected populations?

The immediate needs for people displaced are safe shelter, food and clean water, and access to medical services. In Mananjary, Madagascar where the damage is particularly bad, the hospital which served the community has been badly damaged. The roof is completely blown off and the walls are broken down. It was not possible to evacuate the patients, so doctors and nurses are providing medical services in really tough conditions.

As we get past the first few days, families and communities will need support to recover, reconstruct homes, schools, hospitals and roads as well as to rebuild and recover their livelihoods. More than 75 percent of the population are subsistence farmers and many have lost their farm tools, seeds and other farming resources. Farmland has been severely affected so we would gradually move from emergency response to provide support for recovery. This recovery will include working with farmers to build their ability to recover from shocks like cyclones through agriculture and other income making support. CRS will continue supporting agroforestry and landscape restoration and working with the local church, youth and local partners to cater for the needs of affected population.

 In terms of disaster preparedness and response, is there something CRS is doing or plans to do to bring relief to the hundreds of thousands of stranded people across the region?

In the days leading up to cyclone Batsirai, CRS worked with local partners to prepare vulnerable communities for the expected damage. We shared alerts warning people and telling them how to prepare and provided building materials to help families reinforce their homes to mitigate damage before the cyclone hit.

Immediately afterward, we are working with the most affected diocese of Mananjary to provide hot meals for people displaced by the cyclone and coordinating with other dioceses for additional support.

We are currently doing rapid assessments and working with the government and other partners to move aid materials like tarps for temporary shelter, food items, building materials and hygiene items like soap and clean water to affected communities.