MADAGASCAR Humanitarian actors warn of impending catastrophe

 Madagascar
 Emergency Response
 22nd Apr 2009

ANTANANARIVO (April 22, 2009) – Madagascar is facing an evolving humanitarian crisis of proportions unprecedented in its history. 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 caused by the ongoing civil unrest in the capital of Antananarivo and elsewhere.

Unnecessary death and suffering caused by the three linked but distinct emergencies are threatening to overwhelm the capacity of international organizations and fragile government agencies in a way that would not have occurred were not this emergency so complex and multi-faceted.

When Madagascar’s political crisis erupted earlier this year, the country was already struggling to deal with a serious drought in the south of the country.

The government warns that up to 150,000 people in 31 communities are severely affected and that an alarming malnutrition rate of about 14 percent is being reached in some areas.

CARE International, the World Food Program and other organizations are already responding with food for work activities as well as direct food assistance to nursing mothers and children under age two, but the need is outstripping supply of food and if other funding is not found soon, the consequences could be catastrophic.

The risk is exacerbated by the fact that Madagascar is currently in the “lean season” before harvests in May and June and food is already scarce.

At the same time, the country has been hit by at least three cyclones or strong tropical storms this year. Taken altogether, they create additional humanitarian need in Madagascar at a time at which the country is least prepared to respond. Twelve people died, 4012 were left homeless, and nearly 60,000 people were affected by flooding and lost agricultural production in the wake of the first two storms, which came a couple of days apart in January. Then, on April 6, Strong Tropical Storm Jade hit the extreme northeast coast of the country and then waltzed down much of the east coast, causing at least 15 deaths, and leaving nearly 10,000 people with damaged or destroyed housing and a total of over 60,000 total people affected.

In the best of times, Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world. The current political crisis culminated in a March 17 coup d’état and continuing low-intensity conflict. It has resulted in at least 180 deaths, over one thousand injuries, and a devastated economy with thousands of lost jobs, particularly in the capital. The continuing civil unrest has weakened the central government and left it with lower tax revenue and donor funding. The consequences are already being felt in the form of a significant deterioration in livelihood security for many of the country’s citizens as well as massive repercussions on social service provision and Madagascar’s fragile environment.

Even before the current crisis, most Malagasy were highly vulnerable, as demonstrated by the fact that almost 70 percent of Malagasy live on less than a dollar a day. Other indicators of Madagascar’s underdevelopment are also quite unsettling. Life expectancy at birth is just 55 years, Thirty-eight percent of the population is undernourished, under half of the population has access to safe drinking water and only a third have access to safe latrines. Outside of the capital, well over ten percent of children born do not live to see their fifth birthday.

The economist Paul Collier estimates that, all things being equal, a coup d’état results in a loss of approximately seven percent of a year’s income for a country. Given the factors described above and the fact that economic indicators had finally started to surge upward recently, recovering from the devastating effects of a 2002 political stalemate, the impact of the current complex array of crises could actually be much worse, and Madagascar cannot by any measure afford such a drop in economic well-being. The economic downturn caused by current political events has had a dramatically negative impact on health, education, natural resources and food security in Madagascar, causing drops in the indicators cited above. Urgent international action is needed to limit the impact of these crises, which are disproportionately borne by the country’s impoverished majority.

In collaboration with other international organizations, the United Nations Resident Coordinator’s Office released a “Flash Appeal” for humanitarian assistance to Madagascar in early April, providing one mechanism through which funding can reach those most in need. CARE International, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the Adventist Development and Relief Agency International (ADRA), Médecins du Monde, and other non-governmental organizations are also very engaged in humanitarian assistance in the country.

For more information, contact:

Kenneth Walker, Africa Communications Manager, walker@caresa.co.za, CARE International, Didier Young, Emergency Coordinator, didier@care.mg, and John Uniack Davis, Country Director, johnudavis@care.mg, CARE Madagascar

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