MADAGASCAR: Cash shortage hits cyclone food aid delivery

Saturday, April 19, 2008

A funding shortfall has prevented vital food aid deliveries to tens of thousands of Malagasy people hit by this year's deadly cyclones, leaving many vulnerable to other natural disasters, said the World Food Programme's (WFP) country representative.

At least 106 people died when the Indian Ocean island was hit by cyclones Fame and Ivan earlier this year. The powerful winds, heavy rains and flooding affected over 330,000 people, of whom 190,000 lost their homes.

Krystyna Bednarska, WFP's representative in the capital, Antananarivo, said her organisation still needed at least US$6 million out of a total $15.8 million required to help those affected by the two cyclones.

"We were able to deliver aid for only two months, while our assessment says that six months is the minimum to help these people to recover from the disaster and the shock they are in," she told IRIN.

Helicopters were used to deliver food and non-food items to inaccessible villages on the east coast. WFP had estimated it would need to deliver 14,026 tonnes of food to 200,000 people over a period of six months.

A recurring problem that could get worse

Every year, cyclones hit some of the poorest regions of Madagascar, where 70 percent of the population live on less than a dollar a day. "The result is that people who are already extremely poor are even poorer after the cyclone," Bednarska said.

In 2007, the worst season on record, six cyclones struck Madagascar, killing at least 150 people. There was also unprecedented flooding in the central and northern parts of the country, while chronic drought prevailed in the south during 2006/07.

The combined effects of these disasters left nearly half a million people in need of humanitarian assistance by the end of March 2007. "If it happens again next year they will be totally helpless," Bednarska warned.

Scientists say warming seas linked to climate change are likely to increase the frequency and intensity of tropical cyclones in the coming decades, and some suspect this is already happening.

Hope despite the odds

Roughly half of Madagascar's land is cultivable and most Malagasy still depend on farming for their livelihood. But production of rice, the country's main crop, does not fulfil the requirements of the rapidly growing population.

Despite being a tropical island, some 50 percent of Madagascar’s children younger than 5 years suffer chronic malnutrition.

"One may think that Madagascar would not need external food aid – you see the beautiful island and think it should all work, but the reality is very different," Bednarska commented.

Natural disasters, including frequent drought in the southern region, hinder poverty alleviation, while Madagascar's isolation, sheer size (it is the fourth largest island in the world), lack of transport, poor infrastructure and weak market structures contribute to the problem.

The government's poverty reduction strategy - known as the Madagascar Action Plan - says the country aims to reduce the number of people living on less than $2 a day to 50 percent. In 2003 this figure stood at 85.1 percent.

"Madagascar does have the potential to stand on its own legs. We do hope that it will not need us any more soon, but now the reality is still far from it," Bednarska said.

Hope for a better future could lie in boosting mining and oil projects and cash-crop agriculture. The island is the world's main producer of vanilla, accounting for roughly two-thirds of global vanilla exports.