"We have a dramatic situation developing here," said Dr. Sergio Soro, speaking from the UNICEF office in Antananarivo. "The storms that have flooded the continent are landing their worst blows here. The island is like a punching bag right now."
He said two new storms were lined up in the Indian Ocean and heading toward Madagascar, which sits off the southeast coast of Africa like a huge breakwater.
Soro noted that the storms that have caused flooding across the island, including the western side, which is usually protected by inland mountains and is unaccustomed to storm damage and serious flooding.
Referring to a lack of helicopters available for rescue, reconnaissance and the movement of relief supplies, Soro said Madagascar "could become the next Mozambique." He said the impact of Cyclone Gloria, which pounded the island for 24 hours yesterday before moving into the Mozambique Channel, was still being assessed. But he emphasized that the hardest-hit areas were inaccessible due to flooding and that it was still unclear how many people might be in need of immediate help.
At the request of the Government of Madagascar, today UNICEF is emergency airlifting some 15 tonnes of relief items from its supply centre in Copenhagen. The $100,000 shipment includes:
- Emergency medical supplies to meet the needs of 120,000 people for three months
- 10.5 tonnes of high-energy biscuits for malnourished children
- Radio equipment crucial to co-ordinating the relief effort
- The UNICEF team in Antananarivo is also procuring thousands of blankets and water purification tablets.
Soro added that the disaster could possibly exacerbate a cholera epidemic that has gripped Madagascar since March 1999. In the last 12 weeks alone, over 11,000 new cases have been reported. Although there are sufficient supplies of anti-biotics on the island to treat the disease, Soro said that damage to roads and bridges caused by the severe flooding could contribute to a worsening of the problem.
Madagascar has a population of roughly 15 million people, of which half are under the age of 18. Three-quarters of the population is 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.
For more information, visit UNICEF's website at http://www.unicef.org