JOHANNESBURG, 24 February (IRIN) - Almost
40,000 people across Madagascar face food shortages due to weeks of heavy
rain the World Food Programme (WFP) said on Monday.
WFP Director Bodo Henze told IRIN that almost 70 percent of rice fields had been flooded and almost 99 percent of banana plantations destroyed as a result of the downpour.
"The situation is certainly serious in parts of the country because bananas and other fruits are eaten during the lean season. Without access to these alternative foods people's coping mechanisms are seriously deteriorating," Henze said.
Although the flooding was receding, the effects of the recent tropical storm Fari continued to impact on low-lying neighbourhoods in the capital Antananarivo, Fianarantsoa (south), Mahajanga (west) and Toamasina (east), Henze added.
Tropical Cyclone Fari made landfall in southern Madagascar on 29 January. In May last year, thousands of hectares of farmlands was destroyed by Cyclone Kesiny.
"Several isolated communities along the coastlines are now facing serious food shortages. Also, there has been a dramatic increase in malnutrition rates in Nosy Barika along the east coast. Already food for work programmes have started in the south-east, [the region most affected by Fari], using 400 mt of WFP food pre-positioned in the region," Henze said.
In the south of the country WFP said 1,090 mt of maize would be distributed to 13 districts affected by, conversely, drought. The government intends to provide rice at a subsidised price.
The food situation was also difficult for a large number of vulnerable people due to the lingering effects of the political crisis in the first half of 2002 which severely disrupted the economy and resulted in sharp increases in food prices in urban areas.
"It looks as if we will have to extend our operations beyond March given the prospects for another poor harvest. While we are coping with purchasing local and regional stock we are still under stocked. More seriously is that there has been a complete pipeline break for oil," Henze said.
In November 2002 the UN food agency appealed for US $8.4 million to purchase 18,400 mt of food aid to assist vulnerable communities for six months.
As from the 18 February WFP's emergency operation was 55 percent resourced, facing a shortfall of US $4 million.
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