After devastating cyclones, UNICEF and partners step in to help Madagascar

By Anwulika Okafor

NEW YORK, USA, 10 April 2007 - The island nation of Madagascar has seen more than its fair share of nature's destructive capacity recently. Since December it has been hit by six cyclones or tropical storms - including tropical storm Jaya, which struck last week - affecting more than 450,000 people.

Even beyond the 90 deaths attributed to this series of disasters, the aftermath has been devastating:

- Vital health networks are disrupted

- Some 10,000 children are out of school because their classrooms have been destroyed or damaged

- Up to 90 percent of rice paddies in several districts have been inundated.

Mobilization on the ground to help those affected by the storm damage in Madagascar was swift but severely hampered. Washed-out roads and the remote location of some of the hardest-hit areas have made it hard for aid to reach a number of severely affected communities.

Delivering emergency supplies

Reaching people in those areas is one of the main challenges facing the international community and national counterparts inside Madagascar.

"There is a huge issue of access," said UNICEF Representative in Madagascar Bruno Maes. "Roads were cut, bridges were broken, so we had difficulty to assess the situation and launch the response."

In spite of this difficulty, UNICEF, the World Food Programme (WFP), the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid Department and other partners quickly launched relief operations to help the Government of Madagascar mount an effective crisis response. UNICEF has provided more than $1.6 million in emergency supplies, and WFP is working to bring food aid to areas where cyclone survivors can be reached.

But there is still much more left to do. The continuous storm cycle and residual high water levels have severely hampered the lives and well-being of tens of thousands of islanders displaced by the cyclones.

Immunization and health campaign

A team from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has been dispatched to support UN staff already in Madagascar and to help the national authorities determine what emergency supplies and facilities are needed to avert further disease outbreaks and deaths.

In the aftermath of the storms, there has been concern about a possible rise in child and maternal mortality because of malnutrition, lack of sanitation and poor access to basic health services. To alleviate these problems, OCHA is planning a national immunization and preventive health campaign in affected areas beginning on 23 April.

The campaign will provide measles vaccinations, de-worming treatment and vitamin A supplements to boost immunity for children and pregnant women.

UNICEF is also working with the government to distribute more than 300,000 insecticide-treated mosquito nets in an effort to stave off any increase in the incidence of malaria among children in cyclone- and flood-affected communities.