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Madagascar Changes Relief Focus

March 15, 2000

ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar (AP) _ With relief efforts to Madagascar’s northeast virtually finished, aid workers will now focus on the harder-stricken and less accessible east coast, an official said.

Stephane Catta, a spokesman for the French Embassy, said the French military was planning parachute food drops to assist tens of thousands of stranded people on the east coast.

``In the northeast, the situation is not as bad as we feared,″ he said. ``The situation is much worse on the eastern part of the island.″

A French military commander said a C160 aircraft was planning to fly to the eastern coast on Thursday and drop food by parachute over devastated areas. The C160 can carry seven tons of food, Catta said.

The World Food Program has flown 25 tons of food to the northeast in preceding days, and French helicopters have helped ferrying the food to flood victims. Rainy weather hampered the effort Tuesday afternoon, and a shortage of fuel at the airport in the northeastern town of Sambava was also a hindrance.

More helicopters were desperately needed to get the food to the flood victims, said Brigitte Dopler, a spokeswoman for Doctors Without Borders.

A World Food Program aircraft delivered seven tons of rice and high-protein biscuits to Sambava this afternoon for distribution to outlying areas. The city of 30,000 lies in the heart of Madagascar’s vanilla producing region. Vanilla grower Francis Lopat said the floods destroyed half the crop.

The floods have destroyed 90 percent of farmers’ rice fields and all their crops, said Jennifer Overton, a regional health officer.

Aid agencies also were planning programs to halt the spread of cholera, which has sickened 500 people in the past three days. Catholic Relief Services said it would educate flood victims about how to prevent cholera and distribute water purification materials to about 90,000 people on the east coast.

More than 1,350 people have been reported dead by the Health Ministry since the epidemic began one year ago, though the actual number of victims could be higher because many families don’t report the deaths of relatives, fearing health authorities would violate customary burial traditions.

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