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Madagascar Storm: “Build Back Better’
By John Uniack Davis, Country Director, CARE Madagascar
February 23, 2011
'Today we left Vatomandry at 6 a.m. to head back up the road 90 kilometers to Brickaville, the district hardest hit by Cyclone Giovanna. As we approached Brickaville, we saw major destruction in every settlement, houses flattened and large trees uprooted.
The large town of Brickaville was bustling, with havoc wrought by the cyclone everywhere but people going about their business. We turned down a busy side street to come upon a group of young Malagasy in Red Cross garb and then pulled up at the busy makeshift field office that CARE shares with the Malagasy Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations. After paying a courtesy call on the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) team leader and meeting up with two colleagues from OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) who were going to the field with us, we hit the road again.
Shortly after leaving Brickaville in a well-worn Toyota Land Cruiser for the driving portion of our excursion to Andovoranto, the town where Giovanna made landfall, we spotted a lone man rebuilding his house. We were a ways out in the country on a verdant hillside with no other homes in sight. We found out that the young man's name was Jackie and that his wife and young daughter and he had been in their home when it was torn asunder by the cyclone. At that point, they were forced to huddle together in the open for hours until the storm passed. His wife and daughter are now living with relatives in the town of Brickaville for the three weeks it will take him to rebuild their home. When we asked Jackie how his new house would compare to the old one, he shook his head sadly and said it would be worse.
Once CARE's response moves from immediate post-disaster relief to longer-term recovery activities, "building back better" will be a primary objective -- we want the most vulnerable victims of Cyclone Giovanna to emerge less at-risk and less vulnerable than they were before this cyclone. And to do this we need to help them to ensure that they are housed in less-precarious structures.
After 45 minutes of driving and 45 minutes in a CARE motor boat, we arrived in Andovoranto. The town sits on a narrow spit of land between the Pangalane Canal and the Indian Ocean. We were struck by the contrast between the beauty of the natural setting and the stark destruction that we saw everywhere we looked. A two-story private nursery school and primary school had one wing leveled, the second floor pancaking on top of the first, leaving a chaotic image of torn-up walls, a broken roof, and splintered furniture, garnished with a heartbreaking jumble of children's notebooks, workbooks, homework, and school supplies.
Around the corner from the school we met a woman named Denise Charline. She and her children slept in their granary during the storm to escape their flimsy house. They are now back in their house, living in it despite a badly-damaged roof, thanks to USAID”s plastic sheeting distributed by CARE.
The images of the past two days spent in towns and villages affected by Cyclone Giovanna will stay with me for a long time. I am daunted by scenes of raw destruction but lifted up by the courage of those most affected by it. My team and I are fully committed to an emergency response that honors the dignity of the Malagasy people and helps them to "build back better" their homes, their livelihoods, and their lives."