Cyclone Haruna Contaminates Drinking Water in Madagascar

Our teams treat water-borne illnesses and provide safe drinking water in affected communities
Children retrieve water from a well in Madagascar. Photo: ACF-Madagascar, L. Grosjean
Children retrieve water from a well in Madagascar. Photo: ACF-Madagascar, L. Grosjean

As World Water Day approaches, we are focusing on the importance of safe water and sanitation around the world. There is perhaps no better recent example of how crucial clean water is to health than in Madagascar, where Cyclone Haruna hit in late February. Torrential rains, intense winds and rising sea levels damaged homes and destroyed crop lands. Action Against Hunger teams in Madagascar are providing emergency relief for tens of thousands of people who are still recovering from the devastation. Those who are able to return to their homes have found that though the water has receded from their houses, it’s still contaminating their fresh water wells and has made drinking water unsafe. 

“We Have No Choice But to Drink.”

In Mangily, a scenic coastal area that is typically a tourist destination, residents are feeling the effects of Cyclone Haruna. In addition to losing their livelihoods, people here face mounting health concerns because wells are contaminated. As a local mother named Clarisse explains, “My son is very sick. The whole area depends on these two wells. We have no choice but to drink." Gauthier Sabary, a local fisherman and father, also sees what the cyclone has done to damage local fresh water supplies.  

“The water contaminated everything. Our houses were flooded and two wells in our neighborhood were completely submerged. In the wells, we could see lots of mud. As more sea water entered, the well water became salty. But, as we have no other wells, when the water was removed from the houses, we started to drink again. Then our children started falling ill.”

– Gauthier Sabary, fisherman in Mangily, Madagascar

Decontaminating Wells Restores Health

We responded immediately to the crisis with emergency supplies, including water tanks and purification treatments. In many areas, diarrheal disease and cholera are spreading rapidly, so we provide emergency medical consultations to treat and prevent these and other water-borne illnesses. We‘re also creating more sustainable solutions to provide clean water and safe sanitation in communities where these outbreaks are common.    

Now, our water, sanitation and hygiene teams are pumping out dirty water from wells and replacing it with safe, chlorinated water. In just two weeks, we have disinfected hundreds of wells, and are working to clean many more. We’re engaging community members to help in the clean-up, like Gauthier, who volunteered to help after one of his children became sick from drinking unsafe water. He and other residents worked with our teams to clean the wells in his area.

“I’m glad we could clean these two wells. Without Action Against Hunger, we would have continued to drink dirty water and children would have continued to be sick.”

– Gauthier Sabary, fisherman in Mangily, Madagascar

Stories like this one remind us of how important clean water is to health—the health of individuals, communities, and entire countries. This World Water Day, make a splash and help us bring safe water and sanitation to people in Madagascar and around the world. 

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Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast of the United States not long ago. How is disaster response different in the U.S. than in Madagascar? How is it similar?


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