450,000 people already affected. Natural disasters continue hitting Madagascar, affecting hundreds of thousands of people with another cyclone, Jaya, on the way.

Since December 2006, approximately 450,000 people have become the victims of natural disasters across Madagascar. These families urgently require shelter, food, potable water, medication and school supplies.

To be in a better position to provide immediate assistance, UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP), with the support of the Government of Madagascar and their partners, have recently established three operational bases in the affected areas. Two of these are in the northern part of the country in the districts of Ambanja and Antsohihy; and the third is in Nosy Varika in the south, which has been struck by floods and also recurrent droughts.

"Natural disasters continue hitting Madagascar, affecting hundreds of thousands of people with another cyclone, Jaya, on the way," said Bruno Maes, the Representative of UNICEF in Madagascar. Due to the flooding, tens of thousands of hectares of rice, the basic food source for the Malagasy, have also been destroyed. The affect of this has been difficult to measure, but with the increased food insecurity and shortage, there is the risk of increased malnutrition.

Communication infrastructure, roads, schools and health centres have been badly damaged. The main problem is the affected population's access to healthcare, potable water and sanitation facilities. "Given the immediate needs of the population, UNICEF is contributing to risk prevention for diseases such as diarrhoea, respiratory infections, measles and malaria. Diseases such as these, can lead to a very high number of casualties given the current situation. An increase in malnutrition is also an exacerbating factor, especially for those who are more vulnerable such as women and young children," added Maes.

UNICEF's response has been focused on three key areas: health and nutrition; water, hygiene and sanitation; and education. WFP and UNICEF are together conducting regular evaluations to assess the needs of the affected populations. Logistical operations are also being carried out simultaneously, which allows for effective and regular transportation of all food and non-food items to the affected villages that are often in remote and inaccessible areas. These goods include tents, soap, water treatment products, buckets, school supplies, high-protein biscuits, rice, dry vegetables and oil.

"UNICEF and its partners have the responsibility to bring back hope to the lives of those families who have lost everything, and help them to return to a normal life, without further delay, including access to basic social services," testified Maes.

According to UNDP's Human Development Report 2006, more than 70% people live below the poverty line in Madagascar. The response in an emergency is particularly crucial for the Malagasy population, whose daily lives are already precariously balanced.