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The BBC's Peter Biles
People do worry about food security
 real 28k

The BBC's Martin Dawes reports
"The assessment support scepticism about some of the larger estimates of those thought to have been at risk"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 14 March, 2000, 10:15 GMT
Rescue mission assesses Madagascar
Madagascar
There has been severe flooding in coastal areas
French Navy helicopters have flown over north-eastern Madagascar to assess the extent of the damage caused by two cyclones which hit the island.

Speaking afterwards, the captain of the French helicopter carrier, Phillippe Combes, said that the damage, although bad, fell short of the devastation in Mozambique, which was hit by the same weather system as the Indian Ocean island.

Scepticism

"Our crews visited a few villages supposed to be in a terrible situation," commanding officer of the French Jeanne d'Arc, Captain Philippe Combes, said.


This is not an emergency that is going to disappear overnight. We are going to be here for the long term.

Edward Carwardine, Unicef
"There is something to do here, of course, but we didn't see here in Madagascar the terrible situation like there was in Mozambique," he told Reuters news agency.

The BBC's East Africa correspondent says the captain's assessment supports scepticism about the larger estimates of those at risk in Madagascar.

He says that while many villages are inaccessible and the storms have hit populations that are always vulnerable to disease and food shortages, they are also used to cyclones and coping with hardship.

Relief work

Nevertheless, one of the six French helicopters has picked up a tonne of food for distribution and is to take another to outlying villages.

The UN's World Food Programme is sending two cargo planes loaded with emergency relief supplies to the north-eastern town of Sambava.

From there, the French helicopters will fly the aid to villagers cut off by the devastation caused by the storms.

About 150 people were killed after Cyclones Eline and Gloria ripped across the island.

It is expected that the carrier will leave the island as scheduled in three days time.

Relief workers said Madagascar would need help for months to come. There is also concern over the risk of spreading disease.

"This is not an emergency that is going to disappear overnight," Edward Carwardine of the United Nations children's agency Unicef said.

"We are going to be here for the long term."

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation said thousands of acres of rice fields had been flooded.

Last week, the United Nations estimated that about 22,000 people needed food and medicine in Madagascar and up to 200,000 would depend on food assistance in coming months because crops had been lost.

Before the cyclones hit, Madagascar was already struggling to cope with a cholera crisis that had killed at least 1,200 in recent months.

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See also:

12 Mar 00 | Africa
Weather boosts aid effort
10 Mar 00 | Africa
Aid reaches Madagascar
28 Feb 00 | Africa
The floods: A regional disaster
28 Aug 99 | World
Nature's lethal weapons
09 Mar 00 | Africa
Rain disrupts relief operation
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