UNICEF working to assist tens of thousands following cyclone Batsirai in Madagascar

UNICEF and partners in Madagascar are urgently working to support an estimated 75,000 people – including around 37,500 children – in need of humanitarian assistance following the devastating impact of cyclone Batsirai which struck the south-east and centre of the island nation on Saturday.

Latest reports suggest that 13 children have lost their lives.

Together with the government, sister UN agencies and NGO partners, UNICEF field teams, based in affected areas, are currently assessing the extent of the damage and the needs to be addressed, while responding to those that are most pressing.

UNICEF Representative in Madagascar, Jean Francois Basse, who is part of the assessment team, said social services had been particularly hard hit by the cyclone.

“Dozens of schools and medical centres have been either damaged or destroyed by Batsirai, which directly impacts the lives of children,” he said.

“In responding to this emergency, we need to address the immediate needs, but also plan for the long-term by building back better, including with more resilient buildings.”

Among the most pressing needs are safe water and adequate sanitation to avoid outbreaks of waterborne diseases, and the provision of medicines, food, cooking equipment, and other basic household items for survival.

Cash transfers can also be used to support reconstruction and the restoration of basic social services such as education and child protection.

The death toll from Batsirai currently stands at 30 with over 70,000 people displaced or homeless, half of whom are children, but these numbers are likely to change as several areas remain unreachable. Many of those displaced were moved into government-run shelters before the cyclone struck with UNICEF pre-positioning key relief supplies to at-risk areas while working closely with Madagascar’s national disaster management bureau.

“Our teams on the ground are working hand-in-hand with government partners to assist those most seriously impacted by this crisis,” said Basse. “With the damage affecting such as large area, we need to ensure that there is equity in the response and that no one is left behind.”

Madagascar was already confronting a major drought in the south of the country and the effects of Tropical Storm Ana, which struck weeks earlier, when the cyclone hit. In a country where 77 per cent of the population lives on less than US$1 a day, the additional stresses of Batsirai are stretching response capacities to the limit while putting the vulnerable at even greater risk.

“We still don’t really know the extent of this crisis,” said Basse. “But it’s clear that rebuilding lives and infrastructure will require intensive efforts.”