WASHINGTON The World Bank has approved $167 million (104.2 million pounds) in emergency lending to Madagascar despite opposition from the United States due to concerns about increased human trafficking, U.S. and bank officials said on Friday.
The World Bank said approval of the funding did not mean it had resumed "normal" relations with Madagascar, which has been in crisis since 2009 when opposition leader Andry Rajoelina ousted President Marc Ravalomanana with the support of the army.
Ravalomanana has since been sentenced in absentia to life in prison over the killings of demonstrators during the coup.
But the bank said social indicators had worsened since the crisis, with 77 percent of households living below the poverty line, one of the highest rates in Africa. In some rural areas, acute child malnutrition has increased by more than 50 percent.
It also warned that critical bridges and roads leading to the capital, Antananarivo, could collapse if not repaired.
A U.S. government official told Reuters the United States had opposed the funding because of concerns over the country's record on human trafficking. The United States is the World Bank's largest and most influential shareholder.
A report published earlier this year by the U.S. mission to Madagascar said trafficking of Malagasy women and children had risen due to a decline in the rule of law since the 2009 coup.
It estimated thousands of Malagasy women were forced into jobs as domestic workers in Lebanon where they reported being raped, tortured and harassed. There have also been reports that Malagasies were fraudulently lured to China on promises of jobs only to be forced into marriage or debt bondage there.
"The de facto Government of Madagascar does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so," according to the U.S. report.
The World Bank said $102 million of the emergency funds would help repair or rehabilitate important national roads, schools and health centres, many of which were damaged by the last cyclone.
The other $65 million will fund subsidies for teachers and provide grants for basic health services at schools. Some funding will also go toward helping pregnant women and children, and for nutritional centres.
"The compounded impacts of the political crisis and successive natural disasters are putting the welfare of current and future generations at risk," the bank said in a statement.
(Editing by Peter Cooney)