The UN's top humanitarian official in the Central African Republic (CAR) on Wednesday underlined the need for safe access to vulnerable people following two recent attacks on aid organizations operating in the south of the country.
Denise Brown, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in the Central African Republic, was deeply shocked and dismayed by the attacks, which occurred on April 7 and 9.
Six aid workers and a health district worker were injured, one seriously.
Vulnerable people at risk
The attacks forced a humanitarian organization to suspend its mobile clinics and activities to improve access to clean water for some 11,000 people in remote areas of Basse-Kotto prefecture.
“Every time humanitarian workers are attacked, the lives of thousands of vulnerable people are at risk. Aid workers helping people in extremely difficult conditions should not be targeted,” said Ms Brown.
The CAR has a population of around five million people, more than half of whom depend on humanitarian assistance.
A challenging environment
The country is among the most challenging for humanitarian workers, according to the UN humanitarian affairs office, OCHA, with security incidents hampering the delivery of desperately needed aid.
Between January 1 and April 15 this year, some 43 incidents involving humanitarian organizations were recorded there, with 11 humanitarian workers injured.
Last year at least one incident per day was recorded, half of which were robberies, robberies and break-ins.
“Civilians are the main victims of the conflict in the Central African Republic and humanitarian assistance is a matter of life and death for millions of people. Aid workers who come to their rescue in a neutral and impartial manner must have free and safe access,” said Ms. Brown.
More than three million people in the CAR, 63 percent of the population, will need humanitarian aid this year.
The figure includes 2.2 million people in dire need who humanitarians say may not survive without the necessary assistance and protection.
Last year, the agencies helped about 1.8 million people in emergency situations.
Somalia is facing famine conditions like a perfect storm of poor rains, skyrocketing food prices and huge financing gaps that leave nearly 40% of Somalis on the brink.
Mogadishu - Millions of Somalis are at risk of famine as the impact of a prolonged drought continues to destroy lives and livelihoods, and growing needs outstrip resources available for humanitarian assistance, United Nations agencies warned today. United.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) The United Nations calls for an immediate injection of funds. to allow an expansion of vital assistance in Somalia. This follows the release of a new Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report which found that six million Somalis, or nearly 40 percent of the population, now face extreme levels of food insecurity, with pockets of conditions famine likely in six areas of the country.
This is a nearly two-fold increase in the number of people facing extreme levels of acute food insecurity due to the drought and related shocks since the beginning of the year. It reflects a rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation, as millions of Somalis have exhausted their capacity to cope with the crisis and funding shortages mean humanitarian workers will be unable to meet the needs of the growing number of people facing emergencies.
“The projection of the risk of famine in six places is extremely worrying and should serve as a very serious warning if we really want to say 'never again' after 2011. The reality is that time is not on our side and many more lives and means of life are in danger. destined to be lost in the event of further funding delays,” said Adam Abdelmoula, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator. “Therefore, I continue to call on the authorities and our development partners to act decisively and help expand resources to meet rapidly growing needs, save more lives and rescue more livelihoods for the people of Somalia,” added Mr. Abdelmoula.
Collectively, humanitarian agencies have reached almost two million people with humanitarian assistance as of February 2022, but a critical gap in donor funding means they are unable to sustain and scale up their support to meet growing needs. If this gap is not urgently addressed, it will contribute to worse outcomes with a real risk of widespread famine. The last time such a humanitarian tragedy hit Somalia was in 2011, when famine killed a quarter of a million people.
“The funding we need to respond to a crisis of this magnitude has simply not arrived. We are all watching this tragedy unfold and our hands are tied,” said Etienne Peterschmitt, FAO Representative in Somalia. “I want to emphasize that it is not too late. The funds received today can still prevent the worst, but they have to come on a large scale and very soon,” he said.
Children under the age of five are among the most vulnerable as the drought worsens, and access to food and milk is very poor due to rising prices of basic goods and the loss of livestock. Around 1.4 million children face acute malnutrition as of the end of this year, and around a quarter of them, or 330,000 children, face severe acute malnutrition.
"Children's lives are at risk. If the funding gap is not filled, malnutrition rates will continue to rise and children may face severe malnutrition and preventable diseases. Losing children to starvation would be a loss to humanity," said Angela Kearney, UNICEF Representative in Somalia: "Addressing drought-related indicators now will also greatly increase a child's future opportunities."
Gaps in the funding pipeline
The drought response is severely underfunded, leaving many Somalis without help. The 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan, which seeks $1.5 billion, is only 4.4% funded, as Somalia competes with other global emergencies for funding.
As the hunger and nutrition crisis rapidly worsens, the gap between food insecurity and available resources is widening. The inability of UN agencies, funds and programs to meet growing needs means prioritizing humanitarian needs and making the difficult decision of who gets help and who doesn't.
“We are literally about to start taking food from the hungry to feed the hungry,” said El-Khidir Daloum, WFP country director and representative in Somalia. “Being forced to prioritize our limited resources could not come at a worse time, as we stand on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe in Somalia. This is a year of unprecedented humanitarian need and hunger, but I implore the world not to turn its back on Somalia or wait until it is too late. Millions of lives are at stake."
A perfect storm for famine
According to recent analysis by FAO's Food Security Nutritional Analysis Unit (FSNAU) and its technical partners, three factors will contribute to famine gripping the country in the next three months: failure of the rainy season of April to June 2022, lack of adequate humanitarian assistance and a constant upward trend in food prices. With below-average rainfall in the offing, inadequate financing, globally disrupted supply chains, and spikes in commodity prices due to the conflict in Ukraine, Somalia is facing a perfect storm that could quickly lead to famine.
For famine to be declared in an area, at least 20% of the population must be experiencing Catastrophe conditions (IPC Phase 5). FSNAU and its partners have identified potential famine hotspots in six different regions where 5-10% of the population or around 81,000 people are already facing famine conditions. In this scenario, the affected areas face extreme food shortages, high malnutrition and excess mortality due to starvation.
FAO, OCHA, UNICEF and WFP are very concerned about the worsening drought and the possibility of famine in the next three months. With current funding shortfalls, bleak rain forecasts and rising food prices around the world, agencies are calling for immediate funding to scale up humanitarian assistance in the worst-affected areas of the country.
Floods and displacement in South Sudan are expected to worsen when the rainy season begins in about a month, the UN refugee agency UNHCR warned on Tuesday.
"Urgent action is needed to protect already vulnerable populations from its worst impacts," Andrew Harper, UNHCR's Special Adviser on Climate Action, told a regular news briefing in Geneva.
Subsistence farming 'decimated'
In 2021, the fragile country, which has struggled to overcome political and economic challenges since gaining independence in 2011, suffered its worst flooding on record, affecting more than 835,000 people, according to the UN humanitarian office. , OCHA.
Record rains in the past three years and overflowing rivers have flooded thousands of acres of farmland in eight states, preventing people from planting crops, and killing nearly 800,000 head of cattle, with nothing to feed them.
“This has decimated the subsistence farming that most communities depend on for survival and substantially worsened food insecurity,” Harper said.
The water refuses to recede
Additionally, 33 of the 79 counties have been severely affected by flooding, which has not subsided significantly since the last rainy season.
The impacts are especially severe in Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states, where thousands of people have been displaced or marooned in diked compounds, holding back floodwaters with mud, sticks and plastic sheeting.
Meanwhile, the upcoming rainy season threatens to inundate extremely remote communities where residents are already surrounded by floodwaters.
"Such weather events will worsen in the future, as extremes become the norm, not the exception," the UNHCR spokesman said. "Globally, floods and droughts are becoming more frequent and intense."
Although they contribute less to carbon emissions, developing countries like South Sudan are disproportionately affected.
Hard to reach areas
During a five-day visit earlier this month, UNHCR Special Adviser Harper toured Old Fangak, Malakal, Jamjang and Bentiu, where he saw first-hand the human impact of the floods.
He said poor road infrastructure, or a lack of passable roads, makes it difficult for foreign aid to reach remote places, such as Old Fangak in Jonglei state, where a former airstrip is completely submerged and currently unusable for landing. .
“In Old Fangak, I met a twice-displaced woman in her 70s, who spent her days submerged in murky waters, desperately plugging a porous earth dam with sticks and mud, to prevent water from inundating the small complex that houses to his family,” a UNHCR official told her. "It's really heartbreaking to watch."
Before the rains, the abandoned residents of Old Fangkak said they need water pumps to rescue their compounds.
“Heavy equipment is also needed to make strong flood barriers and build mounds to keep cattle out of the water,” he continued.
“UNHCR has provided plastic sheets, hoes, shovels and sandbags to help strengthen their defenses against flooding, and is supporting displaced families in Malakal and other towns.”
Avoid 'devastating' repercussions
Visiting the Yida refugee camp in Unity State, Mr. Harper witnessed the complete opposite: a region in the throes of drought.
"Access to the most vulnerable populations is a major impediment to humanitarian aid," he said.
Despite multiple challenges, the climate action adviser noted that "residents have been extremely generous to those displaced by violence or dangerous weather events, often sharing what little resources they have."
However, he argued, they need "sustained support to avoid devastating consequences."
A case of survival
The UNHCR spokesperson warned that if assistance to the people of South Sudan is not stepped up, "the climate crisis, coupled with ongoing insecurity, means that resources will be further reduced, leaving people without the means to survive." .
Accelerated action is required to prevent mounting losses, ensure better preparedness, and secure a sustainable and livable future.
"We know that if we don't act now, the cost will be high, with devastating human consequences," he concluded.
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and the World Food Program (WFP) strongly condemn the attempted ambush of an interagency UN convoy.
On February 28, a convoy of 59 trucks carrying WFP food and nutrition assistance was attacked by armed men some 30 km from Gadiang, 160 km from Bor in Jonglei state.
Under the protection of UNMISS Force, the convoy was on its way to various locations to prepare much-needed assistance to 95,000 people ahead of the rainy season, when access becomes severely restricted. A UN peacekeeper suffered a gunshot wound and is in stable condition.
“The continued attacks on humanitarian workers and the attempted looting of vital aid that millions of vulnerable people depend on for survival is a blatant violation of international humanitarian law,” said Acting Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan Meshack Malo. .
These incidents derail the ability of humanitarian workers to deliver vital assistance to people in need during the limited window of opportunity available to reach them.
“At a time of severe funding constraints, loss of aid due to theft, looting or destruction means that every looted bag of food, nutrition or other humanitarian supplies is stolen directly from South Sudanese families who need it most.” Mr. Malo added. .
The number of attacks on humanitarian convoys and assets has been on the rise in South Sudan, reaching 591 in 2021, according to OCHA. Active hostilities, subnational violence and violence against humanitarian operations have led humanitarian organizations to seek the protection of the UNMISS force during the delivery of assistance.
UNMISS and WFP call on the government to carry out an investigation and bring the perpetrators to justice and urge the community to respect humanitarian operations and UN peacekeeping forces working to promote peace and stability. in South Sudan.
Children and communities on Madagascar's southeastern coast who have lost their homes and schools to successive major storms are bracing for the country's fourth tropical storm in five weeks, Save the Children said today.
The news that intense tropical cyclone Emnati will make landfall tomorrow, February 22, comes 100 days after the Glasgow Climate Pact at COP26 in November, and illustrates the vulnerability of low-income countries like Madagascar to the impacts of the crisis. climate change, the boy told the human rights organization.
In the last five weeks, more than 25,000 people have been displaced by storms Ana, Batsirai and Dumako, and 133,627 children have been left without an education due to the destruction of 2,562 classrooms.[i].
Many schools that are still standing now act as shelters for people who lost their homes to the storm.
Feno*, 13, has taken refuge in a school building with her family after Cyclone Batsirai destroyed her home two weeks ago. He said: “I am not going to school now because all the classrooms have been destroyed by the cyclone. What I need is for our house to be rebuilt, as well as our school. I am very afraid that our house will never be rebuilt.”
Onja*, 13, from Mananjary, had to flee to a temporary shelter at a school before moving to a tented shelter in a camp, where she remains with her mother and two brothers. She said: “When the cyclone hit Mananjary on Friday afternoon, the wind was blowing strongly. We prepare to move to school. I was very scared because once we were in the classroom, the wind was blowing hard and the water was coming in, so we had to sweep it up. We couldn't sleep until morning.
“We had to be relocated here because the cyclone destroyed our house. Our house and the fields where we grew Bambara peas and sweet potato leaves have been completely destroyed. The harvest was supposed to be in April, but the cyclones damaged everything.
“It is more difficult to find food now, because the cyclone destroyed all the plants that we would have sold.
“For now the schools are being repaired so we don't have class. I am afraid of the next cyclone because I heard that it will be stronger than the previous one.”
Tropical Cyclone Emnati is forecast to reach Category 4, the second highest category on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, with strong winds of up to 220 km per hour, before making landfall in areas around eastern Mahanoro and the southern Madagascar. Heavy rains, floods and landslides are expected. The country's central-eastern region, already badly hit by Storm Batsirai, another Category 4 storm, just over two weeks ago, is likely to be affected, Save the Children said.
Save the Children's program director for Madagascar, Tatiana Dasy, said: “Over the last few weeks, almost everything has been taken from children in eastern Madagascar. Tens of thousands have lost their homes and 133,627 have been left without access to education as these cyclones have destroyed school buildings.
“Already, about 9 out of 10 people in Madagascar live below the global poverty line[i]and more than half of children are chronically malnourished[ii]. This country is simply not prepared for these kinds of successive climate shocks. We are extremely concerned about the further devastation that Cyclone Emnati will bring. With the drought and hunger crisis in the south of the country, and these successive tropical storms, the children of Madagascar are facing tragedy after tragedy.”
Save the Children Global Child Poverty and Climate Director Yolande Wright said: “What we have seen in Madagascar in recent weeks is a perfect example of the multi-layered and intersecting crises of climate and poverty. Children who have done nothing to contribute to the climate emergency are bearing the brunt of rising global emissions that are fueling more frequent and severe disasters, in countries already struggling with high levels of poverty.
“100 days after the Glasgow Climate Pact was made at COP26, the devastating situation in Madagascar, and elsewhere, should be an illustration of why leaders of high-income countries and historic emitters need to step up action urgently on all fronts, including climate finance for the most vulnerable.”
Save the Children has carried out an assessment of the needs of the communities affected by successive tropical storms and is preparing a response in partnership with the organization Humanity and Inclusion.
*Names have been changed to protect anonymity.
[i] National Office for Risk and Disaster Management, Madagascar
[i] madagascar | OCHA (unocha.org) The global poverty line is $1.90 per day.
[ii] madagascar | OCHA (unocha.org)
Militia groups in the eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) continue to target displaced civilians in a growing number of deadly attacks this month.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency and partner organizations are shocked by reports of eight major attacks in Ituri province affecting displaced people in the first ten days of February alone, characterized by killings, kidnappings, looting livestock and food and home fires.
More recently, in the early hours of Tuesday, February 15, militiamen massacred 17 people with machetes in the town of Lando, Djugu territory. Eight children were among those killed. A mother and her two children were burned alive when the assailants set fire to the shelters.
UNHCR calls on all parties involved to immediately stop the violence against civilians, including displaced populations, many of whom have been forced to flee multiple times. Large-scale and repeated displacement is overwhelming the resources of neighboring settlements where people have sought safety.
The wave of violence follows a particularly deadly attack at the Plaine Savo site for displaced people on February 1, also in Djugu territory, Ituri. In that incident, the militiamen killed 62 people and injured 47 others. This caused the displacement of 25,000 people from the area, who fled towards the town of Bule, where UNHCR and its partner CARITAS have been providing emergency support.
Despite a government-imposed state of siege introduced in May 2021 in an attempt to stabilize the region, violence and abuse against unarmed citizens and displaced people continue to destabilize swathes of North Kivu province. Earlier this month, seven displaced people in Masisi territory fled after being flogged for failing to pay a tax imposed by armed groups, while another six were kidnapped and released only after a ransom was paid. In Beni, continued brutality against locals has driven thousands from their homes in the last week alone. Civil society actors have highlighted the enormous pressure and trauma inflicted by these ongoing attacks on local communities, especially as displaced people can no longer return to their homes.
Elsewhere, intercommunal conflict in South Kivu has displaced at least 10,000 people since early February.
According to OCHA, 2.7 million people were displaced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo between January and November 2021. A total of 5.6 million internally displaced persons were registered at the end of November 2021.
UNHCR urges all parties to allow humanitarian organizations access to provide vital assistance to those in need. Kidnappings and attacks on humanitarian workers, which have also been on the rise, must stop so that they can continue their operations without threats to their safety.
Continued underfunding in the region and across the DRC is inhibiting the delivery of desperately needed assistance, with UNHCR programs requiring US$225.4 million to meet the urgent needs of the displaced.
The United Nations World Food Program (WFP), together with the Government of Madagascar, is providing food, logistics, IT assistance and an air link to support relief operations in the Mananjary and Manakara districts severely affected by the cyclone. Batsirai which made landfall on February 5.
Before the storm hit, WFP had already started providing hot meals to evacuees in shelters in Manakara. Food previously placed by WFP in Manakara and Tamatave, before the cyclone, began to arrive in affected communities, with additional stock going to the most affected areas. WFP is also supporting assessments to determine the full impact of the cyclone.
“WFP is working around the clock to ensure that food and essential items reach those whose lives have been disrupted by the cyclone. Our logistical and IT support to humanitarian partners ensures a timely and efficient response to the disaster,” said Pasqualina Disirio, WFP Country Director in Madagascar. “We are seeing severe damage, including the destruction of the rice crop that was just weeks away from harvest. Cash crops such as cloves, coffee and pepper have also been affected in a region where most people make a living from agriculture.”WFP has distributed 10,000 hot meals in cyclone shelters in Manakara since 3 February 2022. Some 8.7 MT of pre-positioned food has been distributed to displaced people in Manakara and 3.4 MT in Vohipeno, while another 5 .2 MT will be distributed over the next few days. Also, about 160 MT of food is being transported to Mananjary. Cash distributions to nearly 1,400 households are ongoing in Farafangana. WFP is supporting the government in its rapid assessment which includes aerial reconnaissance. The UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) is carrying out special flights in coordination with OCHA to assess the impact of the cyclone. UNHAS continues the airlift between Antananarivo and Mananjary and other areas to support the response. WFP will also provide road transport to partners between Manakara and Mananjary to enable relief efforts. WFP has already provided logistical support for relief items such as tents, wooden pallets and tarpaulins. WFP has deployed staff to assess the IT needs of the entire humanitarian community in the most affected areas. In preparation for the cyclone, WFP provided government authorities with IT equipment (smartphones and power banks), a vehicle and access to MoDA (WFP's data collection platform) to speed up the registration and management of displaced people. eligible for help. .
Aid workers continue to support Madagascar in the aftermath of Cyclone Batsirai that hit the island nation last weekend, the UN said on Thursday.
The storm left 92 dead and has affected another 112,000, the UN humanitarian affairs office, OCHA, wrote on Twitter. Some 17,000 homes were damaged.
Speaking in New York, UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric told reporters that emergency response teams are being deployed to the worst affected areas, in support of the government-led response.
"Additional UN and NGO personnel have landed in Madagascar to support relief efforts, thanks to the European Union, which has facilitated the necessary humanitarian airlift," he said.
UN agencies, including the World Food Program (WFP), as well as their aid partners, have been ramping up the response in close coordination with their government counterparts.
Second deadly storm
Cyclone Batsirai hit the east coast of Madagascar on Saturday night, becoming the second deadly storm in just two weeks, following Cyclone Ana to the north.
WFP was on the ground providing emergency assistance within hours.
In a report published on Sunday, Martina Azzalea, head of the WFP office in Manakara, recalled the horror.
"Everything was shaking. It felt like claws were pulling at the roof. I heard metal sheets ripped from the roofs of nearby houses hitting my door," he said in a voice message. "The power lines were cut and the entire city went completely dark."
Food, protection and medicine
In addition to hot meal distributions by WFP, Mr. Dujarric said that the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and sister agency, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health fund, UNFPA, have been providing protection activities.
Health partners have sent essential medicines, first aid and emergency health kits, mosquito nets and COVID-19 prevention materials to the cyclone-affected areas, it added.
They have also set up emergency medical posts at temporary accommodation places for displaced people.
UNICEF and its partners working on water, sanitation and hygiene have delivered kits to affected areas, while others are procuring rehabilitation kits for homes, health centers and schools.
Meanwhile, communication with crisis-affected communities is being strengthened, including through the mobilization of volunteers and community partners.
The devastation caused by Batsirai has added to the suffering caused by the passage of Tropical Storm AnaGENEVA, Switzerland, February 8, 2022/APO Group/ --
Tropical Cyclone Batsirai wreaked havoc in Madagascar over the weekend, the second deadly storm to hit the African island nation since the beginning of the year.
Batsirai made landfall on Saturday night local time with winds of up to 165 km/h and gusts of up to 230 km/h. The most affected districts are Nosy Varika, Mananjary and Manakara, according to initial reports.
With more than 43,000 newly displaced people in around 180 sites and at least 211 schools affected, UN teams are working with national authorities to provide emergency aid and support, according to the initial situation report released Monday by the office of UN humanitarian affairs, OCHA.
The number of those affected is expected to increase in the coming days, as more information becomes available, including for hard-to-reach areas that have not yet submitted initial reports on damage and loss of life suffered.
The Government estimates that up to 600,000 could be affected by Batsirai in total, and the number of displaced could reach 150,000.
The World Food Program (WFP) says that around 1.64 million are at crisis level or worse, when it comes to food insecurity.
Wind and rain from Tropical Cyclone Batsirai have caused considerable damage to roads and transport links, leaving some of the worst affected areas inaccessible. At least 19 roads and 17 bridges have been cut.
"The devastation caused by Batsirai has compounded the suffering caused by the passage of Tropical Storm Ana and an intertropical convergence zone in Madagascar less than two weeks ago," OCHA said.
Tropical storm Ana left 55 dead and 132,000 affected, including 15,152 people who remain displaced, of whom 14,938 took temporary refuge in 68 centers in the Analamanga region. The Government declared a State of Emergency on January 27.
The cyclone has now entered the Mozambique Channel, where it is moving south and away from land. It has lost much of its strength and was classified as an ex-Batsirai Post-Tropical Depression as of 4 p.m. local time on Monday, OCHA said.
The government activated search and rescue efforts on Sunday, including a helicopter rescue operation in some areas.
UN needs assessment
The UN assessments began on Monday, with the UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) conducting a first aerial assessment. This will be complemented by multi-sectoral needs assessments conducted by teams on the ground in the coming days, providing a more comprehensive picture of the situation and helping to inform response priorities in the coming days.
The government is providing cash transfers for vulnerable households affected by the cyclone, while humanitarian partners have deployed emergency teams and are stepping up their responses, OCHA said.
The World Food Program (WFP) has started distributing hot meals to 4,000 evacuees and displaced people in shelters, in coordination with national authorities.
Pasqualina DiSirio, Country Director for WFP Madagascar, said around 150,000 have been affected so far, "but these numbers can easily rise."
"Right now we have stagnant waters rising in the canals, in the rivers, and people are still in danger. We know for sure that the rice fields, that the rice crops will be damaged. This is the main crop for Malagasy people. and they will." be severely affected in food security in the next three to six months if we don't do something now and help them get back on their feet."
Protection partners, including UNICEF and its government counterpart, are providing kits to establish child-friendly spaces in the Analamanga, Anosy and Analanjirofo regions, as well as training social workers on gender-based violence (GBV) and prevention. of sexual exploitation and abuse (PSEA) in other affected areas.
The UN gender and sexual health agency, UNFPA, and its partners, including the Ministry of Health, are providing psychological first aid in Manakara, Fianarantsoa, Vangaindrano, Mahabako and Taolagnaro (Fort-Dauphin), distributing dignity kits for women and girls survivors of GBV in the Vatovavy, Fitovinany, Atsimo Andrefana, Anosy, Androy regions, and provide medical care to survivors of sexual violence
Madagascar braced for Cyclone Batsirai which is set to hit the eastern parts of the Indian Ocean island on Saturday, bringing strong winds and torrential rains posing a "very serious threat" to millions.
Residents took shelter before the storm made landfall in an impoverished country still recovering from deadly Tropical Storm Ana in late January.
The Meteo-France weather service warned of winds of up to 260 kilometers per hour (162 miles per hour) and waves of up to 15 meters (50 feet).
He said Batsirai was likely to make landfall on Saturday afternoon as an intense tropical cyclone, "posing a very serious threat to the area" after passing through Mauritius and dousing the French island of Reunion for two days with torrential rain.
Residents of the eastern coastal town of Vatomandry were stockpiling supplies in preparation for the storm.
"We've been stocking up for a week, rice but also cereals because with the power outages we can't keep meat or fish," said Odette Nirina, 65, a hotelier in the coastal town of Vatomandry.
“I have also stocked up on coal. Here we are used to cyclones," he told AFP.
Wind gusts of more than 50 km/h hit the town of Vatomandry on Saturday morning accompanied by intermittent rain.
Residents have reinforced the corrugated iron roofs with sandbags.
– 'We are very nervous' –
The United Nations said it was increasing its readiness with aid agencies, putting rescue planes on standby and stockpiling humanitarian supplies.
The impact of Batsirai in Madagascar is expected to be "considerable", Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the UN humanitarian organization OCHA, told reporters in Geneva on Friday.
At least 131,000 people were affected by Ana across Madagascar at the end of January. At least 58 people were killed, most of them in the capital, Antananarivo. The storm also hit Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, causing dozens of deaths.
The UN World Food Program (WFP) pointed to estimates by national authorities that some 595,000 people could be at risk of being directly affected by Batsirai, and a further 150,000 could be displaced due to further landslides and flooding.
“We are very nervous,” Pasqualina Di Sirio, who heads the WFP program in Madagascar, told reporters via video link from the Indian Ocean island.
Search and rescue teams on the island have been put on alert and residents have reinforced their homes.
Inland, at Ampasipotsy Gare, sitting on top of his house, Tsarafidy Ben Ali, a 23-year-old charcoal seller, held corrugated iron sheets to the roof with large bags filled with earth.
“The gusts of wind are going to be very strong. That is why we are reinforcing the roofs," he told AFP.
The storm poses a risk to at least 4.4 million people in one way or another, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.
Source Credit: TheGuardian