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Sunday, 20th December 2020

A Community Led Approach to Disaster Mitigation in Southeast Madagascar

By Luke Capper

burnt tin roofing in the aftermath of the fireOn 4th November 2020, a fire broke out in Ambinanikely, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Fort Dauphin, southeast Madagascar. The fire had a devastating impact on the community leaving 37 households destroyed and personal possessions gone. When disasters strike, whether nation-wide or localised, the impact is felt at the community level. The community is at the forefront of the disaster and SEED believes that they should play a leading role in the first line of response in its mitigation. In this blog we assess the importance of a community led approach to disaster mitigation and how our organisational code of conduct remains instrumental in times of emergency.

In the past, top-down disaster mitigation has been the archetypal approach implemented by governments and NGOs providing relief. This type of approach is usually based on the NGO or Governments own perception of need and ultimately leaves communities feeling disempowered and to “serve as mere “victims” or “receivers of aid””. (Bishnu and Okazaki, 2005) This can have a lasting and detrimental effect on communities and it has been argued that this approach has frequently “failed to address local needs, ignored the potential of indigenous resources and capacities, and may have even increased people’s vulnerabilities”. (Victoria, 2003).

SEED are conscious of the impact that disempowering individuals and communities can have, and as a result have implemented a community lead approach to the mitigation of the fire disaster in Ambinanikely. When these emergencies arise we felt it was essential to remember and adhere to our core values and realise how best we could apply these given the challenging circumstances. As a collaborative organisation we want to build mutually respectful partnerships with individuals and communities, listen to their feedback and support them in finding solutions. By focusing on mutual respect and partnership building in responding to emergencies, SEED believes the community becomes not a “mere victim of aid” but a partner and leader. Ultimately it is only the communities themselves that can highlight their priorities in the aftermath of the emergency.

Felana discussing design and quality control of reusable sanitary pads with women from the community

SEEDs community lead approach also partners the community to become central players by supporting them to work within the relief effort and effectively deal with the disaster themselves. A more traditional top down approach can deprive those already feeling disempowered of their most basic functions as human beings; to be able to support and provide for those close family members and friends around them. “Community empowerment for disaster risk management demands their participation” (Bishnu and Okazaki, 2005) and having a disaster mitigation plan that enables the community to participate in turn gives the power back to the community in their time of greatest need.

Since the fire, SEED has been working in partnership with the 37 families affected in a number of ways. SEED has held focus groups to identify community needs, and has worked with a group of women to trial two interventions to understand better and therefore be able to appropriately provide what best meets their needs. Once again our core values play an important role in assessing these needs and as a community driven organisation we are guided by the collective voices of the communities we serve. Lisa, our Director of Programmes and Operations and Felana, our International Operations Officer have been working closely with the women of Ambinanikely to understand what immediate resources are most needed. On the list were requirements for menstrual hygiene management and the need for sanitary pads. Partnering with the four women, SEED have provided the necessary resources whilst supporting the women to take responsibility for the product development, purchasing, community liaison and distribution around the menstrual hygiene packs for the 61 women and girls affected by the fire. The empowerment of the women, and the community now coming together and leading this process themselves without SEEDs input, will play an important role in their recovery from the disaster.

fuel efficient stove usage madagascarInstrumental to the long term recovery of Ambinanikely is the sustainability of the relief effort as it moves from immediate response to the recovery stage. Without looking into the sustainability of disaster mitigation efforts it is difficult to reduce the loses and scale of such tragedies. Ultimately, community empowerment plays an important role in this as a lack of effective participation and capacity building “remains a major factor for lack of sustainability.” (Rajeev, 2014) At SEED, we want to develop an integrated and coherent range of programmes that are responsive to individual circumstances and emerging needs and this becomes extremely pertinent in emergency situations. Due to the high fire risk that the area poses, SEED wanted to understand the community’s perceptions and fears for another fire, and how within some immovable challenges, we could look at fire mitigation as part of the recovery stage. In partnership with the community SEED have provided eight members of the community with fuel efficient, closed cooking stoves. As these are more contained and reflect the heat they are far more fuel efficient, have less sparks and are less likely to cause a fire. Piloting these new types of stoves may provide a more sustainable approach to community led disaster mitigation and gives hope that this type of catastrophe might be mitigated in the future.

In times of emergency it is important for SEED as an organisation to remember its core values and serve the best interests of the communities. The community is the frontline defence in reduction of loss and causalities and whilst the Ambinanikely fire will be remembered for its devastation, it will also be recognised as a moment when the community came together and fought back for a stake in its future.


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