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Monday, 27 May, 2002, 18:05 GMT 19:05 UK
Madagascar's 'creeping' emergency
Madagascar slum
The political crisis hits the poor hardest

Three-year-old Ravaka utters the most chilling cry as the aid workers record his height and weight, and measure the diameter of his little arms.

Each month that the political crisis has lasted, aid workers have been checking a sample of 300 children, and now they are seeing what they all feared.

Madagascar boy having his arm measured
Three-year old Ravaka is badly undernourished
Malnutrition is getting worse, and some of the children originally tested are no longer alive.

The tape measure has three colours - green, yellow and red - and Ravaka's armband goes well into the red: He is severely malnourished.

"We're faced with a situation we have never faced before," says Didier Young from Care International.

"It's a creeping emergency."

Mr Young is more used to dealing with cyclones and floods in Madagascar, which are obvious crises where the international donors are quick to provide money.

"All the basic food prices are going up slowly, so the poor people of Antananarivo have problems buying what they need," he says.

"After six or eight weeks we can measure the malnutrition rate and determine there is a famine - maybe then the donors will start moving."

But by then it will be too late.

Black market

The road blocks put in place to isolate the newly declared president in the capital have destroyed the economy and hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs.


The population don't have money to pay for drugs, medicine and consultation

Dr Henry Nirina Rakotoratsimba
Fuel is in short supply and black-market petrol is incredibly expensive, with prices now as high as $4 a litre.

The cost of transporting the dozen essential foodstuffs has forced their price up by 45% in a matter of weeks.

Marie-Madeleine Razanamalaka has three children, but she cannot feed them as cooking oil and even rice are hugely expensive and salt has tripled in price.

Her husband worked transporting building materials on a rickshaw, but now he has lost his job.

She used to cook three meals a day, but now they can only afford one, and poor quality cassava is replacing nutritious rice as her children's staple diet.

Fewer patients

More than 150,000 people in the private sector have lost their jobs - 90% of the once booming textile industry workers are now unemployed.

Oil drums in Madagascar
Little oil is getting through the roadblocks
Many hundreds of thousands more who depended on work like rickshaw pulling or doing laundry to make enough money to feed their families, now find there is no money to filter down, and the poorest of the poor are now suffering.

A good indicator of poverty in a country with no free health care is the number of people going to the doctor or to hospital.

Dr Henry Nirina Rakotoratsimba is a surgeon at Antananarivo's main hospital.

He has seen attendance drop by half in two months.

"Because of the political crisis people don't come for treatment as the population don't have money to pay for drugs, medicine and consultation," he says.

"And those living out of the city cannot come as petrol is so expensive and the cost of getting here is so high."

Rural woes

The impending humanitarian crisis is not just confined to the cities, even though it is harvest time and there is plenty of rice around for the three quarters of the Malagasy population who live in isolated rural areas.

Malnourished child in Madagascar
Madagascar's poor lack food and medicines
The farmers cannot sell at the low price demanded in order to compensate for the high transport costs.

They have food, but they do not have money and cannot buy the malarial drugs which could prevent thousands of people from dying.

"Petrol is so expensive the rice costs too much and people won't buy it," says farmer Ramahatana Randrianarivo, threshing the rice from his two paddy fields.

"Things are bad and people are poor - much poorer."

Didier Young of Care International
Didier Young: famine is not far off
There is little sign that the roadblocks cutting off the country from the capital will be lifted in the near future.

Military action has been promised by the newly-inaugurated president Marc Ravalomanana, but the army is divided and poorly armed.

Long-standing president Didier Ratsiraka does not appear to be giving way and there appears to be no end to the standoff between the two men.

Didier Young from Care International is not optimistic: "Even if things get better tomorrow and the political crisis ends, now the nutritional problem is here and it is not going to be solved in a few weeks, it's going to last," he says.


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27 May 02 | Africa
23 May 02 | Africa
17 May 02 | Africa
07 May 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
06 May 02 | Africa
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