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Political events upstage humanitarian crisis

Children in Antananarivo try to salvage some food - garbage in the capital is no longer being collected
(Tomas de Mul/IRIN)

International donors need to face up to the seriousness of Madagascar's deepening humanitarian crisis and, perhaps more importantly, they need to pay up, said aid agencies on the Indian Ocean Island.

As if the mix of cyclones, floods, drought, soaring food prices and chronic food insecurity were not enough, a protracted political crisis has deepened existing vulnerability, but instead of attracting additional assistance the country has become even more isolated.

"It's as if the population of Madagascar needs to be punished for the consequences of the political crisis," Xavier Leus, Resident Coordinator of the United Nations System in Madagascar, told IRIN.

The international response to Madagascar's coup-style change of leadership, which brought the economy and governance structures to a halt earlier this year, was one of disengagement. The country has been suspended from regional bodies like the African Union and the Southern African Development Community, and donors were quick to cease non-humanitarian aid.

''It's as if the population of Madagascar needs to be punished for the consequences of the political crisise''

But even humanitarian aid has been less than generous: the humanitarian community in Madagascar jointly raised the alarm in a "Flash Appeal" for $US36 million on 7 April, but with barely $1 million in commitments three weeks on, the call seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

In a parallel effort the UN Country Team in Madagascar is putting together an appeal for Central Emergency Relief Funding (CERF) - which is reserved for time-critical, life-saving activities - from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The message is clearer

By December 2008, the government's early warning system (SAP) had brought attention to the 150,000 people in the south of the country needing food assistance due to persistent drought, and to malnutrition rates that were reaching critical levels.

"Madagascar is facing an evolving humanitarian crisis of proportions unprecedented in its history," Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE) said in statement released on 22. 

"The country was already facing an extremely worrisome drought in the south, to which has been added the effects of cyclones and tropical storms, while also being hit with food insecurity," the statement noted.

Now, with need fast outstripping supply, the World Food Programme and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), are very worried that non-funding will make even a minimal response to the food crisis unsustainable.

According to the CARE statement, the risk is exacerbated by the fact that Madagascar is currently in the "lean season", before the main harvest in May and June, but the SAP has warned that poor rains mean little home-grown relief should be expected.

Madagascar has experienced worse cyclone seasons, but the three that have struck since January 2009 have caused widespread flooding, displaced many thousands and left nearly 30 people dead. The latest, Jade, which made landfall on 6 April, affected over 60,000.


Tomas de Mul/IRIN
Hundreds of worried mothers are bringing malnourished children in for treatment
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Political events upstage humanitarian crisis
Hundreds of worried mothers are bringing malnourished children in for treatment

Photo: Tomas de Mul/IRIN
In the south, hundreds of worried mothers are bringing malnourished children in for treatment every day

All of this comes on top of an already precarious situation in the island. Development and health indicators are alarming: 70 percent of the population live on less than a dollar a day, nearly 40 percent are undernourished, and every hour two children die before the age of one month.

Re-engage, but do it carefully

Most observers agree that the combination of emergencies is overwhelming not only the capacity of international organisations, but also the fragile and increasingly non-operational government structures.

"Before the crisis hit we were already trying to work with the government ... But now ... [as a] consequence of the political crisis, the capacity of the authority - particularly at a decentralized level - and the capacity of donors to work with the government has disappeared," said UN Resident Coordinator Leus.

"Donors are waiting for the HAT [Higher Transitional Authority] to show that it is [honest], said Guy Ratrimoarivony, a retired General and Director of Strategic Seminars at the Centre for Diplomatic and Strategic Studies in the capital, Antananarivo. Donor re-engagement would be easier if HAT showed a genuine commitment to holding fresh elections, "and as soon as possible", he told IRIN.

Understandably development aid and direct budget support are contingent on the international attitude to the HAT, but "it is absolutely critical that humanitarian aid is forthcoming – large parts of the population are really suffering, and they will continue to suffer during this [political] crisis."

Leus agreed. "This is a governance issue and of course we need to be working on that, but at the same time we do need to think about what is happening to the people of Madagascar."


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:

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