U.N aid agencies are stepping up emergency relief for tens of thousands of people in Madagascar whose lives and livelihoods have been devastated by Cyclone Batsirai.
Government officials report at least 94 people have died, more than 116,000 have been affected, including nearly 31,000 displaced. The United Nations cautions those figures are likely to increase as more, heretofore, inaccessible areas are reached.
Cyclone Batsirai made landfall on February 5 and the powerful storm demolished or damaged everything in its wake. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, says wind and rain wreaked havoc on more than 18,000 houses and some 70 health centers.
OCHA spokesman Jens Laerke says debris-strewn roads remain closed, making it difficult to access many people in need. Nevertheless, he says a brisk emergency response to the disaster is underway.
“U.N. agencies and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) are already providing relief to support the government-led response," Laerke said. "And we are delivering food, water and sanitation, health supplies and protection services to people who urgently need this. There also are needs assessments that continue in the most-affected districts in the south-east of the country.”
Before the storm hit, the World Food Program had prepared for the devastation that was to come. The agency pre-positioned food ahead of the cyclone. WFP spokesman Tomson Phiri says the food is being distributed to people in affected communities and additional stocks are making their way to worst-hit areas.
He says the WFP so far has distributed 10,000 hot meals in cyclone shelters and will be distributing large quantities of food to thousands of other displaced people over the coming days.
“We are conducting aerial surveys by utilizing the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service on a basis of special flights in coordination with OCHA… We are already providing logistic support for relief goods such as tents, wooden pallets, and tarpaulins," Phiri said. "
Aid agencies warn the severe damage incurred in agricultural regions on the east coast of the large Indian Ocean island could take hunger to even more alarming levels.
They note the cyclone destroyed the rice crop that was just weeks from harvest and fear the consequences of another bad harvest next year.