Unlike previous cyclones, the two storms crossed the whole island from east to west. This has meant that the Western coast has been severely affected by heavy flooding for the first time, and many communities were unprepared for the disaster. Eighteen districts have been affected in total, concentrated in the North East, South West, South East and a Central Plateau area. The worst affected regions are in the South East and North East.
Government estimates put the number of people in the affected areas at over 500,000. An estimated 10,000 people are believed to have been made homeless and 12,000 people physically isolated by floodwaters and blocked roads. Accurate information is hard to gather at this stage due to problems with access.
Madagascar has a population of approximately 15 million people, of which half are under the age of 18 years. Three-quarters of the population are rural, and GNP per capita is estimated at $250, making it one the 20 poorest nations in the world. Even before the flood crisis, only 40 percent of Madagascar's people had access to safe water and adequate sanitation. Rice is the basic food for most of Madagascar's people.
UNICEF assessment teams in northeast Madagascar have found serious damage to the island's rice, banana and coffee crops that could leave hundreds of thousands of people without food and rob them of their income.
"The floods here have created a spiral of disaster," said Dr. Sergio Soro, UNICEF Representative in Madagascar. "The loss of the rice crop could be devastating; it could mean serious malnutrition for hundreds of thousands of people and leave them more vulnerable to illnesses such as cholera and malaria. The loss of cash crops like bananas and coffee takes away people's livelihood at the same time."
"We learned from the Mozambique situation and got our supplies moving early," Soro said. "We immediately mobilised the medical supplies, biscuits and blankets we had on hand, and we brought in a 20-tonne additional shipment last week. "But we're still only a half-step ahead of serious health and nutrition problems," Soro added. "We cannot afford to lose even a day in this crisis."
Since March 1999 Madagascar has suffered an outbreak of cholera. To date the number of new cases is over 23,819 and the fatality rate is 5.7%. The emergency caused by the cyclones Eline Gloria is likely to worsen the situation of the existing cholera epidemic in the country. Reports received from the Ministry of Health state that between 3-9 March 2000, 1,513 new cases of cholera have been registered. Of these cases, 79 were fatal. These figures are based on reports from areas of the country that have not been affected by the cyclones - no information has been made available from affected regions.
UNICEF began distribution of essential relief items immediately after the cyclones. Emergency health kits, high-energy biscuits, blankets and water purification equipment have been distributed.
UNICEF's priorities for action are:
- preventive health care for children and women in the worst affected areas
- treat and prevent cholera and diarrhoea
- ensure the provision of safe water to households and health facilities
- Medical equipment and supplies for health facilities
- replacement of essential household personal belongings
- Rehabilitate schools to ensure they reopen as quickly as possible