Aid agencies are scrambling to help Madagascar recover from a succession of natural disasters, feeding whole communities cut off from desperately needed food supplies and helping thousands of children get back to school.
After six destructive cyclones and unprecedented flooding, cyclone Jaya made landfall on the northeastern coast in early April. With chronic drought in the south, calamities have tormented the island since the end of last year, leaving nearly half a million people in need of humanitarian assistance.
According to a United Nations (UN) World Food Programme (WFP) statement released this week, "the humanitarian community is facing extraordinary challenges in terms of logistical bottlenecks, jeopardising the capacity to access and deliver essential relief assistance."
Storms and flooding have damaged roads and washed away bridges, making it impossible to reach many remote communities in dire need of immediate assistance. "For weeks, people in these remote areas have survived on stocks of food, but these have now been consumed and new supplies of food are urgently needed," said Krystyna Bednarska, the WFP Representative in Madagascar.
The agency has started airlifting food and other supplies to 20,000 people cut off from relief in northwestern Madagascar. "The cyclones that hit this part of the country caused extensive damage to roads and bridges and have made an air operation our only option to save lives," Bednarska added.
Essential relief items, including 100 metric tonnes of food, will be flown over a four-week period from a base in the northwestern town of Antsohihy by helicopter to areas that have been isolated.
"Of course, life continues and we will still have to struggle," said Seraphine, 50, after receiving a one-month ration of rice and pulses and a 15-day ration of fortified oil from WFP.
Almost 150,000 children have been unable to attend classes since the cyclone brought destruction to their region. According to Madagascar's Ministry of Education, 136 schools have been completely destroyed and 591 others have been partially destroyed since December 2006.
According to a UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) statement released on Wednesday, "rebuilding schools will be a slow and difficult process, but communities have made great strides to bring education to the children, with churches and community halls being used as classrooms, local carpenters crafting school benches and tables, and masons transporting construction materials on their backs, often taking days to reach their destinations."
Bruno Maes, UNICEF's Madagascar Representative, said at least 54,000 children in the affected areas could return to school after this month's mid-term break.
UNICEF is "distributing tarpaulins, tents, schools supplies and School-in-a-Box kits [portable kits equipped to conduct classes] in the north in Diana, Sofia and Maroantsetra, which are some of the hardest hit areas," he added. The agency is also providing 90 aluminium anti-termite classroom frames and assisting the government in setting them up.