1. Since January 2009, Madagascar has been experiencing serious political unrest, characterized by sporadic demonstrations and violence in the capital city of Antananarivo and other main urban centres. As of 5 May, some 1,332 casualties, including 191 fatalities, have been recorded in hospitals by WHO. The situation has provoked a climate of fear and uncertainty, leading to a rise in unemployment in key sectors, as well as disruptions in social services. In addition, a number of aid projects throughout the country have been experiencing delays due to difficulties of access and implementation. Certain development projects have had to be put on hold as funding is no longer guaranteed. Aid flows to the public sector have been severely cut by the decision of almost all donors to suspend their disbursements following the change in government on 17 March 2009.
2. Political uncertainties are compounding the effects of the already difficult global financial situation in Madagascar. According to a World Bank report, preliminary estimates indicate that GDP growth rate is likely to be negative in 2009 - down from a pre-crisis projection of 7.5%. This negative impact is expected to emerge through a combination of two forces: (i) the slow-down of private activities in the industrial and service sectors, and (ii) fiscal adjustment of public spending.
3. Following a period of fluctuation, the prices of basic commodities have stabilized, although at a higher level for staples such as oil and sugar. Availability does not appear to be problematic at present. At the time of writing - at beginning of the harvest season - the price of rice has decreased from earlier peaks. Nevertheless, overall inflation increased by 1.9% in February 2009, and by 10.3% year-onyear. The most significant increases were observed in housing, water and electricity.
4. Madagascar is prone to natural disasters, including chronic drought, flooding and recurrent cyclones. Every year brings significant cyclonic systems often categorised as "intense", leaving little time for people to recover their livelihoods. Response activities are further complicated by the poor infrastructure and difficulties of transport in a country which is twice the size of the UK.
5. The recurrent drought in the south of the country is particularly severe this year. An estimated 31 communes (250,000 persons) are affected by food insecurity compared to 11 communes (100 000 people) in April 2008.
6. Although detailed figures are not yet available for the first quarter of 2009, all indicators underscore the severity of the recession in industry and services. There has been an estimated 70% drop in production for hotels and restaurants. A recent surey conducted in the area of Antananarivo revealed that 48 enterprises employing 35,000 workers suspended their activities during February.
7. Anecdotal information provided by social and civil society actors indicate that living conditions in urban areas have been deteriorating since March, affecting in particular access to clean water, health and sanitation. This trend is expected to continue until the current uncertainty and unrest are resolved.
8. Looking ahead, there are concerns that increasing losses in the private sector and delays in the payment of civil servants could seriously exacerbate an already fragile situation. A further deterioration in livelihoods could, in turn, have a serious impact on the political situation and on the maintenance of law and order.
9. The 2009 Mother and Child Health Week took place from 20-24 April nationwide, targeting an estimated three million children under-five and 260,000 pregnant women, with a package of key lifesaving interventions including: vitamin A supplements, de-worming, catch-up immunization and family planning services. The MCH Week provides an opportunity to reach vulnerable and hard-to-reach populations with key health services; this is particularly critical in the current context where there is increasingly a disruption in routine health service delivery. Initial monitoring reports indicate that there was a high turn-out, thanks to awreness-raising activities carried out by community mobilizers and supported by national and local radio.