Madagascar: UNICEF responds to the immediate needs for children and women affected by political unrest, drought and Cyclones Eric and Fanele



Political Unrest: Madagascar has been in a state of political unrest since mid January 2009, due to a protracted conflict between President Marc Ravalomanana and the capital city, Antananarivo's (now ex) Mayor and opposition leader, Andry Rajoelina. The first demonstrations on January 26th brought antigovernment protesters to the streets, setting fire to state-owned television and radio stations in an apparent response to the government's previous closure of the Mayor's private TV station. Subsequent looting and arson attacks throughout the city targeted shops owned by the President and the President's family as well as other supermarkets and electronics stores. Looting, burning and civil unrest extended to the other large cities throughout Madagascar; over 140 casualties were reported, including children, mostly killed during the looting, burning and destruction of buildings. Further violence struck Antananarivo on February 7th, when antigovernment protesters clashed with security forces at the Presidential Palace. Approximately 30 protestors were killed, including four children, and several injured, including 16 children, with both parties further entrenched in the conflict.

The political crisis continues; on 25th February, negotiations became blocked, and the Archbishop of Madagascar called for the UN to take over mediation efforts. The United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, immediately dispatched his Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs on a second mission to Madagascar to assess the developments and further explore what the United Nations could do to help avert further violence and contribute towards peace and stability in the country. Ban Ki-Moon has also decided to appoint a Senior Mediator to establish an office in Madagascar to facilitate the role of mediation by the Malagasy Church Association, FFKM. On 26th February, anti-government protests restarted in Antananarivo. The main urban population currently affected by the political crisis is estimated to be 2.1 million people.

Economic impact: Before the political crisis occurred, an estimated 70 per cent of the population was considered to be living below the national poverty line. While total vulnerability levels are higher in rural areas than in urban areas, the impact of economic shock is more rapidly and severely felt in urban areas. The result of the continuing political crisis is likely to have an adverse impact on the already strained economic conditions, not only of the poorer strata of the population, but also of the middle-income class, with many Malagasy people becoming increasingly frustrated by the reduction of purchasing power, the increase in prices of basic commodities, unemployment and the absence of large scale social protection measures. Ongoing humanitarian operations in the country (in response to the recent cyclones and related flooding, alongside drought in the South) are facing challenges in ensuring that the effect of these separate emergencies on the economic situation of the population is limited as far as possible.

Health and Nutrition: With the onset of the political unrest, many children and women are without sufficient medical services or support to maintain their often already fragile health and nutrition conditions. The political crisis has also coincided with the season of endemic-epidemic disease transmission, meaning that this population is also being exposed to an increased threat of contracting such diseases. Currently, the capacity of the national Ministry of Health has been affected at times depending on the political developments in Antananarivo. However, so far, the Ministry of Health has managed to deliver services in peripheral areas of the city, building on its regional and district level network and offices. It is recognised that if the situation is prolonged, there might be a need to reinforce national health service delivery through partnerships with NGOs, CBOs and other actors. In terms of cyclone response, urgent medical supplies, support and preventive activities such as the provision of malaria nets and key life-saving messages are needed to avert the loss of life.

The crisis is expected to have an additionally detrimental impact on food security and nutrition. Prior to the crisis, a total of 20 per cent of the urban population was estimated to be chronically food insecure, while another 40 per cent were estimated to be moderately food insecure. A joint UNICEF-WFP food security survey in late 2008 confirmed the precarious situation in the most vulnerable areas of the five largest cities and towns in Madagascar; in four of these five cities and towns, the nutritional status of children under the age of five was considered as fragile, falling within the global acute malnutrition rate(1) of between 5 and 10 per cent(2).

The looting and burning of various food and beverage stores in Antananarivo during the political unrest has compromised the stabilising effect of rice stocks in the capitol on the overall rice price index in the country. Some shortages of rice and cooking oil have already been reported, with an ongoing trend for stocking up on basic commodities exacerbating the situation further, leading to price increases on the market for basic necessities. Lack of cash in hand, as well as potential shortages, may seriously impact on the food basket of the most vulnerable families throughout the country, with particular concern for the diet and nutritional status of children and women. In the present deteriorated socio-economic context, 30,000 children under the age of five are likely to descend into severe acute malnutrition, with approximately 10,500 children at risk of mortality without the provision of adequate medical care.

Children's Protective Environment: The protective environment of children has also been adversely impacted. The unusual rates of violence recorded during the recent political unrest have generated high levels of stress and anxiety among children and youth who witnessed or were directly exposed to violent events. A total of 29 children have been reported missing since the onset of the crisis, with indications from Child Protection Networks suggesting that an increasing number of children are running away from home. The crisis may also have contributed towards violence within families, many of which will have already had fragile resilience skills. Global experience shows that an increase in gender-based violence is likely in political crises, and action must be taken to prevent this from occurring in the current context. Children are likely to require psychological support in some cases, which, unfortunately, is at a nascent stage in Madagascar. In addition, the potentially negative economic impact of the crisis is likely to result in job losses, thereby directly decreasing overall family cash income and therefore families' capacities to provide for and protect children.

Impact on Education: Schools in Antananarivo remained closed between 26th and 30th January following the first outbreak of violence, with a total of 270,000 primary and secondary students missing out on their schooling. There are unconfirmed reports of threats made against schools that remained open during the crisis. Depending on their locations in the city and potential exposure to violence, several schools have been closed for shorter periods depending on the day by day situation. The need for catch-up classes, specific support to re-establish the sense of normalcy, and activities to reassure children will have to be urgently addressed. Furthermore, a deepening economic crisis is expected to inevitably reflect in vulnerable families keeping their children from going to school to perform other tasks, as has been the global past experience.

Combined Crisis: The regular and large-scale natural disasters coupled with the political crisis have a severely detrimental effect on Madagascar's development, undermining its immense potential to lift itself out of poverty. Therefore, quick and efficient response to emergencies is essential to minimise damage and allow Madagascar to realise its potential. However, the elevation of the security level in Madagascar to Phase 2 (due to episodic violence, demonstrations, banditry and looting) has presented major challenges in realising UNICEF's work in the country, particularly in responding to the other current crises; the drought and cyclone response. These challenges have caused operations, supply and in-country logistics costs to increase sharply. UNICEF is concerned that if no immediate solution is found to the political crisis, Madagascar is likely to find itself with a weakened capacity to respond to a number of humanitarian challenges, either current or lying ahead.

Drought: There was a severe lack of rain in the last quarter of 2008 and beginning of 2009 in the South of Madagascar, particularly in the regions of Anosy and Androy. Both regions suffer from a consistently high rate of acute malnutrition; nutrition surveys undertaken in 2006 and 2007 showed that the malnutrition rate of children under the age of five reached up to 12 per cent during the lean season (in 2006(3)), and did not fall below 8 per cent, even in the harvest season. The lack of rain in the two regions has adversely affected agriculture production (by January 2009, basic foodstuff crops had been seriously damaged, compromising the expected harvest in April) and threatens food security for the majority of households. A WFP early warning system(4) report has shown that 31 municipalities in southern Madagascar were food insecure by the end of 2008, with approximately 75,000 people expected to be affected in the near future, of which 13,500 are children under the age of five and 5,000 pregnant and lactating women. The impact of the drought is expected to become increasingly severe throughout 2009. Morbidity and mortality are likely to increase as the nutrition status of women and children, the most vulnerable groups, deteriorates. This is compounded by the fact that economic troubles, including those brought by the lack of harvest, mean that families' spending capacity has been further compromised, meaning that they have less money to attend basic health centre consultations in the event of sickness or for preventive care.

Cyclones: Madagascar is prone to natural disasters, including endemic drought, flooding and recurrent cyclones due to its geographical location, and compounded by the effects of climate change in recent years.

Cyclone Eric hit Madagascar on 19th January 2009 at Fenenerive Est on the east coast of the island, and exited the country the same day. Four regions have been affected: Analanjirofo, Atsinanana, Sofia and Sava. Cyclone Fanele hit Madagascar on 21stJanuary in Morondava on the west coast, and exited 24 hours later. The regions affected are: Menabe, Ihorombe, Haute Matsiatra, Atsimo Atsinana and Anosy. Data(5) available from the BNGRC6 in Madagascar shows recorded damage including 58,493 people affected, 4,012 without shelter (with 1,395 still in accommodation centres to date), 33 people injured and 12 people killed. Approximately 3,062 hectares of land were also damaged, mostly due to flooding. As a result of Cyclone Fanele, 158 classrooms in 56 schools were damaged in three school districts (Morondava, Mahabo and Manja) in Menabe region. This affected more than 9,000 primary school students who were unable to return to school for several weeks. In Analanjirofo region, affected by Cyclone Eric, 43 classrooms made of local construction materials and 15 other education structures were damaged in the Fenerive Est district. Eight classrooms were damaged on the eastern island of Ile Sainte Marie.

UNICEF and its partners, including sister UN agencies and international and national nongovernmental organisations and civil society, are working closely through a cluster-configured approach to support the Government of Madagascar in the continued emergency response. The risk of further cyclones is still present, with the cyclone season running until March/April 2009.