Madagascar

Madagascar: Food shortages in the south worsen

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JOHANNESBURG, 26 March (IRIN) - The World Food Programme (WFP) on Wednesday said food shortages in southern Madagascar had "worsened" with a sharp increase in the number of reported cases of malnutrition and tuberculosis.
Some 60,000 people are now affected by drought in five districts in the south of the country.

Describing the situation as "alarming", WFP spokeswoman Annemarie Isler told IRIN the two biggest challenges facing aid agencies were "time and logistics".

"Following last week's assessment, it was concluded that the situation was extremely grave. One of the main problems is that the roads in certain parts of the country are so bad that it is near impossible to get food aid to certain communities," Isler said.

"The delayed transport of 1,090 mt of maize from the port of Tuléar to the drought affected areas has somewhat improved as roads are drying up and additional trucks have been mobilised. However, conditions remain difficult and only trucks of 10 to maximum 20 mt are able to transport food to the region," she said

"We have managed to get almost 990 mt of maize to WFP warehouses and that is being distributed at the moment, but it has taken us almost one-and-a-half months to get the food moved. Also, while we have been relying on in-country stocks we are still awaiting additional food aid from the United States and the European Union, which we hope will get here very soon," Isler added.

The recent vulnerability assessment conducted jointly with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Catholic Relief Services estimated malnutrition rates at centres and hospitals in the drought-affected areas at 30 percent.

"A drop in school attendance has been observed in areas which are not covered by WFP's school feeding project. At the same time, there has been an influx of parents sending children to WFP school feeding sites with the hope that they will get some rations. WFP is thinking about expanding the school feeding in these areas," Isler said.

The UN food agency added that a series of recent calamities, including the 2002 political crisis, had eroded people's coping mechanisms. Almost 40,000 people across the country are still affected by tropical storm Fari which made landfall in southern Madagascar on 29 January.

In May last year, thousands of hectares of farmlands were destroyed by cyclone Kesiny. Twenty-seven people died and some 200,000 people were affected in the Toamasine province by the flooding.

"A visit to the local market proves that there isn't much to sell. The most vulnerable have resorted to eating cactus leaves. Some people have already sold their jewellery and clothing for food," Isler said. "Water shortages are also severe - a bucket of water is being sold at 1,500 FMG (about US 3 cents)."

WFP said although imported rice and commodities were available on the local market, they were at inflated prices. The government plans to inject subsidised maize onto the market.

In a related development, President Marc Ravalomanana on Monday said the rehabilitation and construction of roads would be a priority under the government's economic recovery programme, local newspaper L'Express reported.

Speaking at the launch of a workshop on the government's Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, Ravalomanana said donors were prepared to assist recovery efforts and called for unity in the country. During the 2002 political crisis, several bridges and roads were blown-up as part of a broader strategy to isolate the capital Antananarivo (Ravalomanana's stronghold) from the rest of the island.

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