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U.N. Appeals for Madagascar Help

March 10, 2000

ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar (AP) _ The U.N. food agency appealed Friday for helicopters to distribute aid to areas of this Indian Ocean island, which has been cut off by floods and is threatened with cholera.

Severe flooding triggered by Cyclones Eline and Gloria has killed at least 130 people and chased another 10,000 from their homes over the past month, the government said. Between 560,000 and 740,000 people have lost crops or other property to the floods.

``We need helicopters,″ World Food Program spokesman Salha Haladou said in the capital, Antananarivo. ``In the northeast and east, many roads are inaccessible, and the airports cannot handle big planes.″

The same cyclones also flooded Mozambique, leaving up to a million people homeless or without their livelihoods. Madagascar lies off Africa’s southeast coast, due east of Mozambique.

The French Embassy in Antananarivo said a naval helicopter carrier with six helicopters was due to arrive Monday in northern Madagascar. The carrier will stay in port through Thursday to help with relief efforts, an embassy spokeswoman said.

Madagascar’s national disaster committee on Thursday said two British helicopters were expected to join the rescue effort this week. But the British Ambassador on Friday said the two choppers were going to Mozambique.

A government assessment team completed a two-day aerial survey in northeast Madagascar on Friday, saying afterward that the damage left by Gloria, which pounded the island March 2-5, was less than expected. Though floodwaters had cut off some villages, the damage in many towns was minimal, and residents were already clearing mud from the roads.

The World Food Program planned to distribute 270 tons of rice, 60 tons of dried vegetables and 30 tons of rice to flood victims. UNICEF is distributing health kits, blankets, water purification tablets and biscuits. The French section of Doctors Without Borders was flying in 40 tons of supplies over the weekend.

The floods wiped out many rice crops, and without good harvests in the next few months, thousands of people could go hungry, the WFP said. After emergency supplies have been distributed, aid agencies will focus on restoring the farming sector, it said.

Besides hunger, the floods could worsen a cholera epidemic because of poor sanitation and polluted drinking water, the World Health Organization said.

Until a year ago, Madagascar had been free of cholera for several decades. Since then, more than 1,300 people have died of the disease, half of them in the past month, WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said.

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On the Net: U.N. World Food Program: http://www.wfp.org/index.htm

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