Madagascar: the ICRC increases its presence in the region
In January 2011, the ICRC mission in Antananarivo became a regional delegation covering Madagascar, the Comoros, Mauritius and the Seychelles. The ICRC is stepping up its activities in Malagasy prisons and is continuing to support National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the region. Olivier Jenard, head of the regional delegation for the Indian Ocean, explains the reasons behind this reorganization and priorities in the coming months.
What are the main humanitarian problems in the region?
Madagascar and the Comoros are the countries worst affected by the region's humanitarian problems which are exacerbated by political unrest that sometimes sparks off violence. Governments are not always able to respond adequately to the population's acute socio-economic difficulties.
In the south of Madagascar, for example, the chronically high level of food insecurity stems from a combination of factors, such as limited access to water or other obstacles to development. Since the prison population also suffers from the effects of this situation, the ICRC assists prison authorities in order to improve conditions of detention.
Furthermore, as the islands of Madagascar, the Comoros, Mauritius and the Seychelles lie in the Indian Ocean, they are regularly subject to cyclones which seriously disrupt the lives of people whose existence is already precarious.
Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers are often in the front line when it comes to dealing with emergencies caused by violence or natural disasters.
There has been a political unrest in Madagascar for two years. What are the humanitarian consequences in places of detention?
One of the repercussions of the current crisis has been the suspension of most international cooperation projects. The Government's resources, including those allocated to prisons, have therefore shrunk.
Although, for the time being, the budget devoted to feeding prisoners has not been cut, some projects, such as the rehabilitation of sanitary facilities, have been put on hold in some places. Prisoners are also experiencing greater difficulty in obtaining access to good quality medical care.
Is that why the ICRC is stepping up its activities in prisons in Madagascar?
Yes, that is the reason. We are adding an engineer and a doctor to our team and we are introducing a system of nutritional monitoring. We took this decision in order to respond better to growing humanitarian needs in prisons.
We have been working in places of detention in the country for several years. We provide support for the prison authorities in Antananarivo and in the south where few other organizations are active. These prisons house some 10,000 detainees, or over half the Malagasy prison population.
Why did the ICRC open a regional delegation for the Indian Ocean this year?
In addition to its activities in Madagascar, the ICRC was already assisting National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the region by organizing and financing training courses and, if necessary, supplying them with material.
The ICRC was also instructing the armed and security forces in the law applicable in situations of violence.
Until the end of 2010, the ICRC regional delegation in Nairobi was running these activities in the Comoros, Mauritius and the Seychelles, but given the socio-cultural, economic and geographical similarities of these island States, it seemed more logical to use Madagascar as a base.
Another reason is that some humanitarian coordination mechanisms cover the same region. Good coordination is essential and it is important that we complement the action of other humanitarian agencies.
What are the main challenges facing the regional delegation for the Indian Ocean in 2011?
While we have no difficulty in obtaining access to places of detention and we maintain a constructive dialogue with the prison authorities in Madagascar and the Comoros, who listen to our recommendations, ensuring that they have the capacity to forestall or cope with acute problems such as a lack of food, is still one of our greatest challenges.
We have another worry in all the countries covered by the regional delegation. Many humanitarian organizations finance their work there from funds received after the tsunami in 2004. As these funds are running out, some NGOs might be obliged to scale back their activities, or even pull out. You can imagine what the consequences would be in terms of responding to humanitarian problems in the region.