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UNICEF provides emergency relief after cyclones and flooding hit Madagascar

© UNICEF Madagascar/2007/Toky
Martine Rasoamihevitra and her children are among the 18,000 residents of Antananarivo, Madagascar rendered homeless by the incessant floods that have hit the capital since mid-January.

By Tokiniaina Rasoloarimanana

ANTANAVARIVO, Madagascar, 2 March 2007 – Voahangisoa Nirina and her husband built a house when they got married 13 years ago and have since raised a family of five children there. But six weeks ago, Cyclone Bondo destroyed everything they had.

Now the family lives with 120 other people in a tent provided by UNICEF.

“It’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever lived through. I don’t know what we would have done without shelter,” said Ms. Nirina, 34. “Thank God my children can still go to school – it makes their lives somewhat normal, but I am afraid to think beyond today.”

‘Classic silent emergency’

Since December 2006, this island nation has been hit by two cyclones, a tropical storm, unprecedented flooding and, paradoxically, a drought in the southern part of the country.

The floods in Madagascar have caused seven deaths and displaced over 32,000 people – over half of whom live here in the capital and are being housed in temporary accommodations and tents. This is only the second time since 1959 that floods have caused such devastation in Antanavarivo, which is known for its systems of dykes to regulate water levels.

“Madagascar is your classic silent emergency,” said UNICEF Representative Bruno Maes. “Fortunately, we have not had large-scale epidemics or hundreds of lives lost, but the children who are affected by these disasters live under extremely vulnerable conditions and with the cyclone season is still in full force. We are concerned about potential deterioration.”

© UNICEF Madagascar/2007/Toky
Martine and her children are now living in one of the tents provided by UNICEF for displaced people, in Antananarivo, Madagascar.

Children are most vulnerable

The Government of Madagascar and its partners, including UNICEF, have responded as rapidly as possible to accommodate the affected population at 40 sites throughout the capital.

To maintain basic hygiene and prevent diarrhoea – or worse, cholera epidemics – UNICEF has provided 15,000 families with water-purification supplies, jerry cans to carry water, cisterns, latrines and soap. To ensure that children whose schools have been flooded can still learn, UNICEF has also distributed Schools-in-a-Box kits for some 2,765 students.

Beyond the capital, the flooding has had a catastrophic effect in rural areas. More than 150,000 farming families have been affected, and farmland that may account for 10 per cent of total agricultural production this year has been lost.

More storms on the way

Though the latest cyclone, Gamede, appears to have left the island after bringing harsh rains to the south and southeast, another storm – Cyclone Humbo – is just around the corner.

And then there’s the drought in the south of Madagascar, which is affecting 582,000 people – including 7,000 children under the age of five who suffer from acute malnutrition. Mobile teams have been dispatched to monitor the situation ensure that these children and their families receive therapeutic food and rations.

After more than 40 days of relief operations in locations around the country, Madagascar’s crisis responses services are overstretched at best. The government has launched a humanitarian appeal for $242 million but has received little response from donors thus far.




1 March 2007:
UNICEF’s Misbah M. Sheikh reports on the flooding that has devastated the capital of Madagascar.
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