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Q&A: social media played an integral role during Madagascar’s Cyclone Enawo disaster

Cyclone Enawo might be a distant memory for some, but for those in Madagascar, the strife has only just begun.

It was the most violent storm to strike the island in over a decade and wreaked havoc across the nation, tracking along its spine. Madagascar was already suffering from severe drought, but the storm didn’t exactly bring relief. The cyclone killed more than 50 people and forced more than 100 000 from their homes.

The storm subsequently became a social media trend in the country and in Africa in the early weeks of March, with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram the sources of remarkable images and videos. But while we can all marvel at moving pixels on a screen, few people understand the damage caused by Enawo more than those on the ground.

Medair’s communication and liaison in Madagascar, and manager of @Medair_MDG on Twitter, Holisoa Rasamoelina is one of many working with the country’s citizens at present.

To get a sense of how technology and social media has contributed to the relief efforts in Madagascar, we had a brief conversation with Rasamoelina from her Madagascan base in Antananarivo.

Memeburn: How has social media helped in the prior warning of Enawo to the relief effort so far?

Holisoa Rasamoelina: We alerted our followers before Cyclone Enawo hit, relaying information, warnings, weather reports, and showing them in real time how our teams were getting ready and securing our bases. Klaas Overlade, our Country Director, participated in a meeting with the Prime Minister of Madagascar and representatives from other organisations the day before the cyclone hit, so we posted a short video interview with him to relay the latest information available on our social media accounts.

It was essential for us to raise as much awareness as possible, both for our national followers so they would be informed and stay safe, and to show our international audience what was happening and how Medair was preparing.

M: What are some of the most unexpected ways that technology (particularly social media and mobiles) have helped efforts?

HR: One of our teams is based in Maroantsetra, on the northeastern coast of the country. When the cyclone hit, electricity and internet went out, but from the capital city where I am based, we were still able to stay in touch and receive information from them, updates, pictures and videos via mobile phone. We would not have been able to get information so quickly otherwise.

As well as our own content, we were able to check local accounts on social media, with people posting updates, videos, etc. in real time, using the information to get a clearer picture of the cyclone’s progress, and to relay to our audiences.

M: Is Twitter more integral in the proliferation of information than Facebook? Or vice versa?

HR: We have posted regular updates on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to ensure that all our followers have access to up-to-date information.

Over the past few days, we have used Twitter the most, as it’s a very easy, fast and efficient way to send out real-time updates, find relevant information through hashtags and connect with other people and organisations on the ground. But we also make sure we update followers on our other channels as well as our website.

When people support or donate to Medair, it’s especially important that they feel part of what we are doing; that they see how their support is making a difference for people here. Social media is a great way for us to show them that and connect with them.

M: What are the general conditions on the ground at present?

HR: The situation is very challenging.

This was one of the strongest storms to hit Madagascar in the last five years. A first team of responders, including Medair, did an overflight of the disaster areas on Friday. The cyclone has caused major flooding and the destruction of many crops. Our team has already started distributing WASH kits to families who have found refuge in shelters, containing buckets, soap and a water purification solution.

Over the coming days, we will be doing assessments to ensure our response is as efficient as possible.

Feature image: Rod Waddington via Flickr (CC 2.0, resized)

Author | Andy Walker: Editor

Andy Walker: Editor
Camper by day, run-and-gunner by night, Andy prefers his toast like his coffee -- dark and crunchy. Specialising in spotting the next big Instagram cat star, Andy also dabbles in smartphone and game reviews over on Gearburn. More