Madagascar Threatened by Shortages of Food and Medicine

U.S. Catholic Relief Services Raises Alarm

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BALTIMORE, APRIL 12, 2002 ( Four months after contested elections effectively divided Madagascar, shortages of food and medicine threaten parts of the population, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) reports.

Critical fuel shortages and road blockades have added to the burgeoning inflation and made transport of needed staples and vaccines nearly impossible.

«We are facing an emergency that the world seems not to have noticed,» said Jennifer Overton, CRS country representative for Madagascar. «The people of Madagascar are being held hostage in what has become a contest of wills. Unfortunately, the result is that people are suffering and some will die if this situation is not resolved.»

Many of the island nation´s 2,200 health centers have been unable to offer proper vaccination and preventive health care. Lack of fuel for the refrigeration and transport of drugs, particularly antibiotics and anti-malarials, could lead to a doubling of the already high (about 16%) child mortality rate.

Official election results indicated neither candidate won outright and that a runoff was needed. Declaring fraud, hundreds of thousands staged a monthlong peaceful protest in support of opposition candidate Marc Ravalomanana.

With negotiations stalled, Ravalomanana declared himself president, named a Cabinet and set up a government in the capital, Antananarivo. Supporters of incumbent president Didier Ratsiraka then established a rival capital at the port city of Tamatave and blockaded Antananarivo in an attempt to cripple the city´s economy.

In recent days, bridges leading to the capital have been blown up, further exacerbating the current situation.

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