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South African helicopters deliver WFP food aid to Madagascar cyclone victims


JOHANNESBURG - Tens of thousands of people affected by a devastating cyclone in Madagascar have received vital food aid rations thanks to the successful cooperation between a South African relief team and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).

The South African government despatched four helicopters and a cargo plane to Madagascar soon after Cyclone Gafilo struck in mid-March to help in the overall relief effort, including distributing WFP food aid.

After spells in the north and west, the helicopters are currently operating in southern Madagascar around the town of Fort Dauphin. Today, they are scheduled to deliver 73 tonnes of WFP food aid to 21,000 hungry people, who remain cut off by floodwaters.

"The South African helicopters have played a crucial role in this emergency relief operation by delivering food aid to many devastated communities that are still totally inaccessible by road," said Bodo Henze, WFP's Country Director in Madagascar. "Without their assistance, thousands of families would be stranded with little - or no - food supplies at all."

Cyclone Gafilo struck Madagascar twice in mid-March, first in the northeast and then again in the southwest - leaving over 200 people dead and hundreds of thousands affected. WFP began food relief operations within days of the cyclone hitting the country but many areas remained unreachable until the South African team arrived.

Last week, in partnership with WFP and CARE, the helicopters distributed 110 tonnes of rice and 3.5 tonnes of beans to 32,000 people in the worst hit northern regions.

The focus of operations then switched to the western coastal districts of Morondava and Maintirano, where the South African teams delivered 80 tonnes of rice - provided by WFP and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) - and some essential non-food items to around 23,000 victims of the cyclone.

"WFP is extremely thankful to the South African government, which has demonstrated once again its commitment to helping people in need across the region" said Henze. "Together, we have provided food to thousands of people, whose lives were devastated by this disaster."

On March 19, the United Nations launched a flash appeal to raise US$8.7 million to assist the Government of Madagascar address the urgent relief needs of 310,000 people affected by Cyclone Gafilo.

WFP is seeking US$5.6 million through the flash appeal to provide food to as many as 110,000 people up until the next rice harvest begins in November. Already, WFP is providing aid to around 83,000 people affected by Gafilo.

Gafilo was the worst cyclone to hit the country in 20 years. It is estimated that over 300,000 hectares of agriculturally productive land has been damaged, while 200 schools and 200 health centres have also been damaged or destroyed by high wind and subsequent flooding.

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency. In 2003 WFP fed nearly 104 million people in 81 countries including most of the world's refugees and internally displaced people.

WFP Global School Feeding Campaign -- As the largest provider of nutritious meals to poor school children, WFP has launched a global campaign aimed at ensuring the world's 300 million undernourished children are educated.

For more information please contact:

Stefania Trassari
Tel: (+261) 20 22 30833
Cell (+261) 32 020 7644

Richard Lee
Tel: (+27) 11 517 686
Cell: (+27) 83 256 5021