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Soalala, Madagascar - The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has been providing assistance to some 5,000 cyclone-affected people in the north-west of the island. Getting food and other humanitarian assistance to remote areas is challenging but the expertise of the WFP-led Logistics Cluster, supported by an emergency cash grant of US$ 70,000 from the UN Office Coordinating Humanitarian Affairs, made it possible.
Tropical cyclone Hellen made landfall in Soalala district on the Mozambique Channel on 31 May. This is a swampy area, surrounded by fishing villages and with no roads. The storm surge flooded rice fields and houses.
The first challenge was to transport pre-positioned food commodities from the island's east coast - where the storms generally hit - to the north-western province of Majunga via the capital, Antananarivo.
"We had to cross two bridges with limited capacity," Says Senior Logistics Assistant Rado Andrianarivelo. "We had to unload the trucks to pass the bridges and load them again when they got across. With 26 tons of food, this was a real task."
From northwestern province of Majunga the food and other relief items were transported by boat to Soalala district.
"Boats rarely go to Soalala, an area in the middle of nowhere. We were incredibly lucky to find a fishing boat in a neighboring district. From Soalala, it was impossible to transport commodities to the affected villages by car. So we used small boats and zebu carts." *
Road rehabilitation "WFP has no presence in that part of the country as it is not normally disaster-prone," says Programme Assistant Lala Randrianary. "We had to get all the work done in a limited time-frame. And we also had to train up our new partner, FIASA, which helps implement rehabilitation programmes and organize food distributions."
Nearly 5,000 affected-people are now receiving WFP food assistance in exchange for their labor on rural road rehabilitation programmes.
"Rice was at harvest stage when the cyclone hit," says Senior Logistics Assistant Christian Razafimahatratra. "To make matters worse, the area has also been affected by a locust plague. Hellen was not a big cyclone but the area is so isolated that it really had an impact on the local communities."
The Humanitarian Team response was effective and fast despite the challenges. Most obstacles were dealt with efficiently, thanks to the collaboration of the Humanitarian Country Team, the coordination of the National Disasters Management Agency and the support of the Civil Protection Corps.
* The zebu is a species of cattle native to South Asia and adapted to life in the hot tropics.