As the government of Madagascar launched an international appeal for aid to help over half a million people affected by floods, senior humanitarian officials on Wednesday described the situation as “desperate”.
The scale of the crisis
Dr Sergio Soro, the UNICEF Representative in Madagascar, told IRIN vast areas of the giant Indian Ocean Island 400 km off the coast of Mozambique were now inaccessible because roads had been cut and much of the infrastructure swept away by flood waters in the wake of two cyclones. On Tuesday, the government appealed to the international community for food, water, medicine, and air transport for relief and rescue missions.
“We have to react quickly now. We need immediate impact because we fear the number of people affected by these floods could be higher than the preliminary figure of 613,000,” Soro said in a telephone interview from the capital, Antananarivo. “Many of those affected are children, and as we assess the situation further we will find that more than 10,000 people are homeless. As I speak, the preliminary death toll has now grown to more than 130 people.”
Cyclone Eline tore through Madagascar last month, before moving on to Mozambique. It was followed last week by cyclone Gloria, and weather reports in Madagascar forecast further rain over the next 24-48 hours.
Tackling the disaster
On Tuesday UN agencies in Madagascar decided at an emergency meeting to adopt a policy of rapid intervention followed by ongoing assessment of the destruction. “We cannot wait any longer for assistance. I have stated that this disaster could become the next Mozambique,” Soro said. “I made that statement last Friday because we have to cut the bureaucratic red tape. We already knew many areas were in trouble. In an emergency you cannot wait, and this is why at yesterday’s meeting we adopted an approach of action and evaluation.”
The NGOs Care International, the French chapter of Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF), Catholic Relief Services (CRS), and others were already working with the government rescue committee, the Conseil National de Secours (CNS), and UN agencies to devise and implement an emergency relief operation, humanitarian officials in the capital, Antananarivo, told IRIN.
The areas worst affected
The CNS said an initial survey conduced with representatives of WFP, UNDP and UNICEF cited concern for people in Vatomandry, roughly halfway down the country’s east coast and 200 km from Antananarivo. Other districts cited were Antalaha on the northeast coast, through Mahanoro south of Vatomandry, to Marolombo inland, Antambao, Anosy Be and even Belo-sur-Tsribihina, on the west coast, an area normally protected from such storms sweeping in from the east by the Bemarah plateau.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a report that details of the situation in flooded areas were still to be ascertained because of heavy damage to roads and severed telephone lines.
Of the country’s main highways, Route Nationale 2, linking Vatomandry with Toamasina and Brikaville up the coast had been cut. The main highways linking Antalaha with Andapa inland and Sambava up the coast were also impassable. It was not immediately clear what further access there was from Antananarivo along the only major highway to Antsiranana on the northern tip of the island, or the only major road leading east from the capital to the coast at Vatomandry.
The estimated number of people affected
In the flood-stricken areas, 613,000 people are said to have been affected. Their numbers include 250,000 women and 130,000 children. OCHA said the number of people left homeless was estimated at 10,000.
“We are speaking of provisional figures here,” Soro emphasised. He said he would be making a closer aerial inspection with the interior minister on Thursday. “As we start distributing emergency relief, humanitarian staff will get more detailed information.” The humanitarian community had agreed that WFP and UNDP would manage the logistics. He said helicopters and light aircraft, which were lacking in Madagascar, were urgently required.
“Unfortunately we are not bathed in the limelight of the world’s television cameras, and our plight is dramatic,” he added. “Right now Madagascar needs all the help it can get, and we are approaching donor governments.”
The relief so far
As he spoke, the French government said on Wednesday it was diverting the naval helicopter carrier Jeanne d’Arc to Madagascar immediately. The carrier is in the region after being dispatched last Friday to the Mozambique coast, French officials said. The Jeanne d’Arc’s carries two Puma, two Gazelle and two Skylark helicopters. The ship was due to sail for Madagascar at 1600 gmt on Wednesday.
Last Sunday, a UNICEF cargo plane from Copenhagen delivered 23 mt of relief supplies, including high protein biscuits, medical kits and radio communications equipment.
Meanwhile, WFP said it would start delivering its first airlift of relief supplies on Friday. “Some of the worst damaged areas on the Indian Ocean island are extremely remote,” a WFP statement said. “As an immediate response, WFP will dispatch, by helicopter, 25 mt of emergency rations consisting of rice, beans and sugar to some 30,000 people in the coastal town of Mahanoro, (80 km south of Vatomandry), one of the areas worst affected by floods.”
The agency also said it would deliver a further 375 mt “in the next few days” to Antalaha, Vatomandry and the west coast town of Belo-sur-Tsiribihina.
For immediate relief needs, OCHA said it would help channel funds for Madagascar and provide written confirmation of their allocation. Funds can be transferred to OCHA Account No. CO-590.160.1 SWIFT-code UBSWCHZ12A, at the UBS AG, PO Box 2770, CH-1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland, with reference: OCHA - Madagascar - Cyclone 2000.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions