Madagascar: Floods threaten over half a million people

JOHANNESBURG, 6 March (IRIN) - Floods brought on by heavy rains in the wake of two cyclones have affected over half a million people in the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar creating a major humanitarian crisis, officials told IRIN on Monday.
The UNICEF Representative in Madagascar, which lies just east of Mozambique, Dr Sergio Soro, warned of a crisis which "could become the next Mozambique".

The government's relief commission, the Conseil National de Secours (CNS), expected to have a detailed assessment of the crisis later on Monday. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said it would make an appeal for emergency relief in coming days.

Speaking from the capital, Antananarivo, Dr Alouise Kamuragye of UNICEF told IRIN an initial survey completed at the weekend showed more than 600,000 people had been displaced, half of them children.

"We are facing a situation which is very dramatic indeed," he told IRIN. "Cyclones Eline and Gloria have devastated large areas of the north and the centre of the country. Scores of people have died, and even before the cyclones, we were fighting a cholera epidemic which could now worsen."

At the request of the government, he said, UNICEF had dispatched a cargo plane from its Copenhagen supply centre with 15 mt of relief supplies. The shipment included radio equipment essential for relief coordination, 10.5 mt of high-energy biscuits, and emergency medical supplies.

"These storms caused flooding across Madagascar and hit the western side which is normally protected by high mountains," he said. "Our big concern is accessibility, because roads have been cut and bridges washed away."

Cyclone Gloria washed through the country on Thursday and was followed at the weekend by heavy downpours, before it moved west towards Mozambique. One of the areas worst-hit, according to initial assessments, is the coastal town of Vatomandry, 200 km east of Antananarivo. Flood conditions were also reported in Mahanoro, another coastal town about 100 km south of Vatomandry. Just inland, the storm swept the central district of Mahanoro before causing devastation at Belo-Tsiribihina on the west coast. Earlier, cyclone Eline took a similar east-west route, passing some 80 km north of the capital, according to OCHA.

Madagascar, with a population of about 15 million people, has a per capita GNP estimated at US 250, making it one of the 20 poorest nations in the world, according to UNICEF.

Kamuragy said the island had been in the grip of a cholera epidemic since March last year. In the past three months, 11,000 new cases had been reported. Officials said they feared roads severed by storm waters in the Vatomandry area, which lies roughly halfway down the country's east coast, would make it difficult to get medicines to the area.

Relief agencies have appealed for tents, iron sheeting, fuel and the staple, rice.


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