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Foodgrains Bank responding to cyclone in Madagascar

By Amanda Thorsteinsson


WINNIPEG — Disasters that don’t get media attention still affect many

When a major natural disaster strikes, like in Nepal, one that kills many people and destroys livelihoods, aid from the outside world pours in.

But what about smaller disasters that never make the news or dominate social media — but still leave a country unable to respond on its own?

That’s what happened on the island nation of Madagascar, off the southeastern coast of Africa, when it was hit by tropical cyclone Chedza in mid-January.

The heavy rains and winds caused flooding and landslides. Crops were damaged and homes were destroyed. About 70 people were killed, and over 80,000 people were left homeless or had their livelihoods destroyed.

For those affected by the disaster, it was a life-changing event. But few in Canada know anything about it.

“Although this disaster was not on the scale of humanitarian disasters such as the Haiti or Nepal earthquakes or the typhoon in the Philippines, for the people affected the effect was still equally devastating,” says Canadian Foodgrains Bank program officer Rob Finlay.

“People weren’t able to return to their homes, feed their families, or work in the fields,” says Finlay. “There were thousands of families affected.”

Thanks to the support of Canadians across the country, Canadian Foodgrains Bank and its members didn’t have to hope there would be media attention to cause Canadians to donate to help people in Madagascar.

Since there was money in the bank, a quick response was mounted by Foodgrains Bank member World Renew to meet immediate needs.

Together with its local implementing partner — the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar — World Renew was able to rapidly respond by providing emergency food for 1,200 families.

“In situations that require a rapid response, the Foodgrains Bank works with local partners that we already know and have previous experience working with,” says Finlay.

“We don’t have time to assess their ability to respond. Our confidence in our local partners, who know the situation, is key,” he adds.

After the initial emergency response of free food distribution is over, the move to rehabilitation and recovery is under way.

Households with at least one able-bodied adult will participate in food-for-work programs, receiving food in exchange for labour repairing and rebuilding their communities.

The most vulnerable households will continue to receive free distributions of food.

“The goal for the project is twofold,” says Finlay. “We want to help people in a tough situation right away, while also supporting people’s own efforts to get back on their feet, working on their farms and providing for their families.

In the Madagascar cyclone response, this means 2,500 families are being assisted in repairing damaged irrigation systems and clearing silt and debris from rice fields in return for weekly food rations. Each family was also given rice seed in time for the traditional April planting season.

“We want to help people to help themselves,” says Finlay.

The Government of Canada is also contributing financially to the project.

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