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Helping Malagasy with disabilities access safe shelter from cyclone

"We feel safe, and that’s the most important thing,” Serge Felix says. Serge is blind, and like other Malagasy with disabilities has the right to safe and accessible shelter from storms like Cyclone Batsirai. Humanity & Inclusion teams work with Malagasy partners to ensure people with disabilities, as well as older people and those living in extremely vulnerable circumstances, can ride out the storm safely and with any support needed. 

Since Saturday, cyclone Batsirai has been making its way across the island of Madagascar. Heavy rains have caused floodwaters to poured into communities. Wind gusts reaching 130mph, and dangerous storm surges have flattened homes.

A wake of devastation and displacement trails the storm. At least five people lost their lives, and there is severe damage to health structures and schools.

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The cyclone arrived on the back of Tropical Storm Ana, which resulted in 55 deaths, and displaced around 130,000 people from their homes just two weeks ago. Estimates suggest that Cyclone Batsirai could result in another 150,000 people unable to access their homes.

Yet amid the stories beginning to surface from the storm, there are stories of resilience, inclusion, and above all safety. 

Accessible shelter

Without access to safety, persons with disabilities are at high risk of being left behind during a disaster. "I was really scared,” says Mariette, a 54-year old resident of Toamasina who uses a wheelchair. “I live in a neighborhood surrounded by water, in an unstable house."

In the Toamasina region of Madagascar, which was hit in the early hours of the cyclone, Humanity & Inclusion teams coordinated with local organizations ahead of the storm to ensure the safety and protection of persons with disability, including Mariette.

"I decided to leave for a safer place. I feared not knowing how I’d be able to get out of my house, and if my home would be able to resist the storm.” 

Mariette was able to seek shelter through the Regional Committee for Organizations of Persons with Disabilities, an organization created by Humanity & Inclusion several years ago, and a valuable partner since. Their offices are currently providing accessible accommodation during the cyclone.

To support the initiative, Humanity & Inclusion's teams have been assisting persons with disabilities to use the shelter, and have provided emergency supply kits. The organization has also provided meals, prepared by the Madagascar Association for Women with Disabilities, for the 58 individuals staying at the site.

“I received a warm welcome,” Mariette says. "The site is accessible. It has proper sanitary facilities and I can get around without difficulty. The place is quite calm, with fewer people, unlike in ordinary sites. It's a great privilege to be taken care of like this."

“We feel safe”

Fifty-two-year-old Serge Félix was also sheltering the storm at the center. Serge began seeking an accessible shelter once the cyclone was announced.

Like many others, his home in Ambolomandinika was without drinking water and electricity, making it impossible to cook meals. At the accessible shelter, he says he has access to water, electricity and healthy food.

“The biggest advantages are psychological. As people with disabilities, we are reassured that our specific needs will be taken into account, which may not have been the case in other places."

As the cyclone exits Madagascar Sunday night, Humanity & Inclusion’s teams remain mobilized and have already begun urgently assessing needs across the most affected regions.

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