Madagascar slips into new crisis

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Tiako-i-Madagasikara (President Ravalomanana's party) 
MIDI Madagascar (Antananarivo daily)

afrol News, 31 January - Struggling to recover from the political crisis that paralysed Madagascar one year ago, a food crisis is now emerging in the central highland of the island. Flooding, crop failure and foreseen epidemics take a heavy toll on the provinces heaviest hit by the political crisis.

Two weeks of heavy rains have killed 13 people and affected more than 20,000 people mainly in the provinces of Antananarivo and Fianarantsoa, the World Food Programme (WFP) reports from Madagascar.

Over 2,200 people were left homeless by the heavy rains. Although heavy rainfalls are normal during this time of the year, the quantity of rain recorded in this semi-humid zone since the beginning of January was already twice the monthly average.

The rice harvest season was to begin in a few weeks in the areas around the capital, Antananarivo, and the losses were "likely to be significant if immediate harvest is not possible," WFP warns. This would have a negative impact on the food security situation over the coming months.

The situation might become critical as the country is still recovering from the aftershocks of the political crisis. Due to the 2002 turmoil, real GDP declined by an estimated 12 percent last year, especially hurting the poorest Malagasies.

In the inland provinces of Antananarivo and Fianarantsoa, isolated from the outside world by road blocks, shortages of medicines and food had weakened many rural societies last year. The destruction of infrastructure, including roads and pipelines, has prevented a quick recovery. Also the country's economic collapse has increased unemployment and therefore reduced the alternative income sources of the rural population.

WFP together with its partners has conducted an assessment mission in the area and noted that the immediate problems were the lack of clean water and latrines. Despite the flooding, many people refuse to evacuate from the low-lying areas and the risk for outbreak of epidemics was therefore increasing, the UN agency said.

The agency was currently discussing with its partners "to identify the most appropriate response." WFP was envisaging the possibility to target the flood-affected population through a rehabilitation programme.

While the central highlands were plagued with flooding, the more arid southern parts of the island were lacking rainfall. "Drought continues to spread outside the original 13 communes and is plaguing the south as a whole," WFP noted. Also here, coping mechanisms of the population were being "stressed," as there had not been a full recovery of the aftershocks of last year's crisis. The south was however less affected by the political unrest.

The UN agency lamented that delays in resourcing and food commodity availability continued to affect the implementation of food distribution, despite in-country borrowings. "With no food shipments expected to arrive in the country, WFP's pipeline situation remains critical," the agency warned. Additional donor support was urgently required.


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