23 November 2012

Madagascar: Cyclone Preparations Threatened

Johannesburg — A US$6.1 million funding shortfall is jeopardizing the World Food Programme's (WFP) practice of pre-positioning relief supplies in many areas vulnerable to cyclones. The practice results in quicker response times to Madagascar's clockwork-like natural disasters.

The cyclone season generally runs from November through to March, making Madagascar one of the world's most cyclone-affected countries. In a strategy to save both time and money, "WFP yearly pre-positions food in areas which are the most prone to cyclones during the cyclonic season," WFP spokesperson Valerie Fuchs told IRIN.

This year, Cyclone Giovanna and tropical storm Irina hit the country's east coast in February and March, respectively, two of the 45 cyclone and tropical storm systems that have struck the island in the past 10 years. In October, Cyclone Anais threatened the country outside of the usual cyclone window before dissipating into a tropical depression.

Coverage halved

"Five sites were identified for food pre-positioning [for this cyclone season]," Fuchs said. "Farafangana, Vangaindrano, Nosy Varika, Antanambe, Antalaha [all situated in the country's eastern regions]. Due to insufficient stock this year, priority was given to most vulnerable areas in terms of the food security situation," as well as areas deemed difficult to access in the aftermath of a cyclone.

"Normally WFP would pre-position in nine to 10 locations to make sure most of the cyclone-affected areas are covered," she said. Only about half of the usual 1,000 tons of food have been deployed to cyclone-vulnerable areas - sufficient to feed about 17,000 people for 10 days.

The hunt for Remenabila

The humanitarian impact of tropical storms and cyclones on the island are magnified by both flimsy housing structures and poorly maintained road infrastructure, which has deteriorated in the absence of maintenance since the 2009 coup d'etat.

The donor-dependent government of President Andry Rajoelina was slapped with sanctions and an aid freeze in the wake of the takeover, which deposed twice-elected President Marc Ravlomanana. The government is "struggling" in its efforts to mitigate the expected effects of cyclones and has been unable to source supplies such as "tents, water and sanitation kits, mobile bridges and road repair equipment," WFP said in a statement.

Costs severe

WFP country director Willem van Milink told IRIN that without pre-positioning of relief supplies - including the staple rice, pulses, oil and high energy biscuits - close to areas susceptible to cyclones, the humanitarian response would be "absent or limited within the first week," as there is also a lack of available air transport.

Without pre-positioning, the cost implications for humanitarian organizations responding to the island's natural disasters will be severe Fuchs said, with transport rates expected to multiply by 20 to 30 times.

A meal programme for 215,000 primary school students, targeting the poorest children in the drought-prone southern regions, is also being threatened by an absence of funding. "If resources are not secured, WFP will have to stop the programme [in December 2012]," the WFP November Madagascar Resource Situation Report said.

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.]

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