Disasters Article

‘Our techniques are working!’

Following principles of ‘build-back safer’ and ‘build back local’, some communities in Madagascar are boosting their resilience to tropical storms. Some have already passed their first, very severe test: Cyclone Freddy.

The 2022 cyclone season had a devastating impact on communities in South-eastern Madagascar. Homes were destroyed, crops ruined, and livelihoods lost. The storms left more than 400,000 people in urgent need of assistance.

“Most of our homes were destroyed when Cyclone Batsirai made landfall in our district,”
said the mayor of Tsaravary, a commune located in one of the districts most impacted by the February 2022 storm.

Under the leadership of local governemental bodies and traditional leaders, ten carpenters who live in Tsaravary agreed to take part into a collaborative reconstruction effort that focused on ensuring such damage would not occur again.

“It is a way for me to support my community and to grow my skills,” says Tsotso, a 40-year-old father, when asked about his motivation to join the rebuilding efforts.

With the other carpenters, Tsotso committed to attend eight hours of theoritical training conducted by Malagasy Red Cross that focused on “build back safer” techniques.

“We learned many things, including how to choose wisely in terms of where to rebuild our houses and how to make them resistant to strong winds,
while also using local materials.”
Tsotso, a carpenter involved in a ‘build back safer’ shelter programme in Madagascar

These newly trained carpenters then worked tirelessly with the community over the course of ten days to build shelters following a variety “build-back safer” techniques and standards requirements. These structures now as models for this and other communities to reproduce in their own rebuilding efforts. The first reinforced shelter model was inaugurated on February 19th, 2023, by local authorities and received benedictions of local tribal kings who came to the inauguration ceremony.

Ten local carpenters took part in the first ‘build-back safer’ project in Tsaravary, a commune located in one of the districts most impacted by the February 2022 storm.

Trial by cyclone

Only three days later, the reinforced shelter model went through its first major trial, when Cyclone Freddy made landfall in the very same district. It was with great relief and enthusiasm that communities reported that the shelter models still stood, despite winds of 165km/h brought by the cyclone during the night.

“The shelter we built together confidently withstood the strong winds we heard last night!,” said Tsoto. “Now, the community can see that our techniques are working. I am really willing to encourage and support them with the actual rebuilding of their homes.”

Aimé – who lives in the same village – added: “Beyond the fact that the house is still standing, the carpenters also used local materials. This will make the re-building process of our homes easier.”

To foster resilience and community ownership of the rebuilding process, the Malagasy Red Cross provided additional support to the most vulnerable families participate in the rebuilding process. This assistance takes the form of a cash contribution that covers 10 per cent of the expenses required to build a house that meets the necessary standards. Through these steps, communities are able to take an active role in rebuilding their homes while retaining control and a sense of agency over their own recovery.

Within the scope of an IFRC Emergency Appeal, a total of three reinforced shelter models were built with 21 locally-based carpenters and six assistants. More than 110 volunteers were also trained in “building back safer” techniques in the district of Mananjary, the district of Nosy Varika and the district of Vohipeno.

1- The project was done in close coordination with local leaders and governmental bodies. The inauguration of the first model shelters was even blessed by tribal kings from the area.
2- Tsotso, one of 10 carpenters involved in the project, stands in front of the reinforced shelter model the day after Cyclone Freddy made landfall. Built using locally available materials, the new shelters withstood Freddy’s 165 km winds.


What happens when machines can decide who to kill?

It’s the stuff of science fiction: machines that make decisions about who and when to kill. Referred to as “autonomous weapons”, they’re already in use to some degree. But as more sophisticated systems are being developed we wanted to an expert in the field about whether such systems comply with international humanitarian law and what it means for humanity to give machines the power over human life and death.

‘Wildfire diaries’ and radical change in communications

In this episode, we talk with humanitarian communicator Kathy Mueller who produced our first magazine podcast series, The Wildfire Diaries, about massive wildfires in Northern Canada in 2017. We talk about that series, her many international missions, and the big changes in humanitarian communications since she began with the Canadian Red Cross almost 20 years ago.

The power of storytelling

In this episode, we talk about the power of storytelling to inform and inspire. “Storytelling is a fundamental aspect of human communication,” says our guest Prodip, a volunteer and multi-media storyteller for the Bangladesh Red Crescent. “It inspires us to be a hero of our own community.” We also speak with one such community hero, Dalal al-Taji, a longtime volunteer and advocate for inclusion of people with disabilities in emergencies response. “In disasters. persons with disabilities sometimes get forgotten.”

Discover more stories

Get stories worth sharing delivered to your inbox

Want to stay up to date?

This might interest you...

To trust, or not to trust?

That is a question many migrants must ask themselves every day as they navigate life on the move, or in new surroundings. A study from the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement sheds light on how to ensure migrants, including refugees, can trust those who are trying to help.

Check it out