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FAO/GIEWS Special Report: Cyclones, storms and floods cause devastation and serious food shortages in part of Asia

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At the tail end of the monsoon season, when rains normally begin receding, cyclones, storms and floods have devastated several parts of Asia, killing thousands of people, making hundreds of thousands homeless and seriously threatening food supplies. In addition, economic damage to communications, transport, property and infrastructure has also been extensive and will require several months to rehabilitate.

INDIA: On 29 October, the worst cyclone in almost 30 years, struck coastal areas along the North Eastern state of Orissa, leaving up to two million people homeless. The worst affected districts included; Balasore, Cuttack, Ganjam, Jagatsinghpur, Jajpur and Kendrapara. An estimated 11 million people, almost a third of the state's population, were affected and current official estimates put the number killed at about 10 000. The number of deaths, however, could rise further as large numbers of people remain un-accounted for. Many of the displaced people are marooned and have no access to food and clean water, whilst the health and nutritional situation is deteriorating fast due to outbreaks of gastro-enteritis and cholera.

The state of Orissa has an estimated population of around 36 million people and a cropped area of approximately 5.4 million hectares, or around 4 percent of national total. It is a food deficit state, with a relatively large rural population (60 percent) relying primarily on low productivity subsistence agriculture. Only 25 percent of cultivated area is irrigated, compared to an average of 40 percent nationally, whilst fertiliser use is significantly lower than levels applied in other states. Only 25 to 30 kg/ha of nutrients (NPK) are used, compared to an average of 75 kg/ha. Agricultural productivity, therefore remains low, with average yields of rice (the main staple) up to 40 percent lower than average for the country as a whole. Given the state of agriculture and the level of poverty in the state, household food security, would have depended heavily on the main rice harvest, to have commenced in a few weeks, and stored grain. However, an estimated 800 000 hectares of farm land (15 percent) were destroyed, together with large volumes of grain in store. These losses will have serious repercussions not only on immediate food security but also for food supplies over the greater part of next year. This is especially so as rabi (winter) production, mainly of wheat, from Oct/Nov till March/April is negligible in the state. In addition to farm households, those that lost their entire source of livelihood, such as fishermen, will also face severe hardship in the coming months.

Notwithstanding strenuous government efforts to provide assistance , the scale of the devastation was so large that over a week after the cyclone, hundreds of villages still remain isolated from urgently needed food and medical supplies, depending entirely on food air drops. In response to the emergency, the Government has so far provided US $130 million in cash assistance, in addition to the US $59.5 million provided in the aftermath of the earlier cyclone in mid-October. Food assistance is being transported to affected areas by road and sea, whilst 395 tonnes have been air-dropped. Relief assistance is also being provided in the form of hospital care, shelter, medical supplies and communications equipment. In addition to national emergency measures a consolidated interagency United Nations appeal for assistance will be launched later this week, to cover urgent food, water and medical needs.

Notwithstanding the severity of the humanitarian crisis in Orissa, the overall food situation in the country remains satisfactory, following a record wheat harvest earlier this year, large wheat stocks and prospects of a favourable kharif (main) rice crop this year.

VIETNAM: Heavy rains, over several days in late October/early November, led to the worst flooding in decades in central coastal areas. Current reports indicate that around 550 people were killed and over 600 000 displaced. In addition damage to property and infrastructure is officially estimated at around US $200 million. Several areas remain isolated by flood waters, where concerns are mounting of food shortages. Problems may be exacerbated by further rains and floods.

Although, civilian damage has been high, crop damage, was not as serious as it may have been, as the areas affected were not in the main food/rice basket of the country in the south or the coffee and tea areas further north. The main crop currently would have been the tenth month rice crop, which is planted in June/July for harvest in October/November. In normal years this rice crop nationally accounts for around 25 percent of aggregate annual production, whilst the winter/spring crop (planted from January) accounts for the largest share. The worst affected provinces were along a 500 kilometre stretch between Quang Binh to Quang Ngai, home to some 6 million of the country's 79 million people. The area is amongst the poorest in the country and is normally food deficit as it is agriculturally and industrially less developed than the rest of the country.

The approximate rice area along this stretch is estimated at around 340 000 hectares of which approximately 64 000 hectares were reportedly damaged. In addition around 30 000 hectares of other crops were also affected and over 100 000 tonnes of rice and maize damaged in store. In recent years, these provinces produced around 1.2 million tonnes of rice , or around 7 percent, compared to national production of around 17 to 18 million tonnes. In addition, the affected provinces produce around 25-30 thousand tonnes of maize or less than 3 percent of aggregate production of around 1.2 to 1.3 million tonnes per year. Large quantities of rice and maize in store were also damaged. Central coastal parts of the country are regularly prone to bad weather and storms, with a reported 397 people killed by storms and floods last year.

The Government has responded quickly to the emergency by distributing food assistance to affected areas, which are amongst the poorest in the country and the most vulnerable to food shortages. In spite of current humanitarian operations, it is likely that food supply problems will persist into next year, while significant intervention would also been needed to rehabilitate agriculture.

Notwithstanding the damage by floods, overall paddy production in the 1999/2000 marketing year is forecast at 19.5 million tonnes, similar to last year's record.

CAMBODIA: Torrential rains resulted in widespread flooding, principally around the capital Phnom Penh in late October/early November, when 150 mm of rainfall was received instead of 30 mm in normal years. The worst affected areas were around Pursat, Battambang, Kg.Speu, Takeo and Kandal. Although thousands of people had to abandon homes, no serious casualties have been reported so far. The full extent of damage to the main rice crop, to be harvested shortly, is yet to be determined, though unconfirmed reports indicate that around 2 000 hectares had been affected. Risks of further rainfall and flooding still remain relatively high. The overall food situation, however, remains satisfactory, following a good early rice crop and generally favourable prospects for the main wet season crop, to be harvested from January.

Elsewhere, although much less serious than previous years, drought at critical times in the crop cycle seriously affected maize production in DPR KOREA where the food situation remains precarious. Agricultural production on the whole, even in good years, is likely to remain much lower than needs due to severe lack of essential inputs, such as fertilizers, machines and fuel.

These natural disasters are unlikely to significantly affect cereal trade in the region for the 1999/2000 marketing year. Following El Niño and La Niña related weather anomalies in 1998, which adversely affected crops in the region, a notable recovery in rice production is forecast this year, signalling a 15 percent decline in rice trade compared to last year's record. Based on deliveries and contracts, 1999 rice trade is currently projected at about 23 million tonnes, some four million tonnes below 1998. Rice imports in Indonesia, the world's largest importer, are projected at around 3.5 million tonnes, some 40 percent below 1998. Regarding exports, Thailand, the largest exporter, is forecast to export 5.7 million tonnes, some 700 000 tonnes lower than 1998. Chinese exports are estimated at 2 million tonnes, of which 1.6 million tonnes have already been exported in the first 8 months. Although indications were that Vietnam would export around 4.3 million tonnes of rice in 1999, in line with the Government's target, the floods and resultant food shortages may mean that some of the rice is diverted as assistance to vulnerable groups. In the first nine months of the year, the country exported 3.8 million tonnes.

Wheat trade in the region, however, is forecast to increase by over 2.5 million tonnes over last year, principally due to higher import demand in drought affected countries. Imports are likely to increase particularly in the Islamic Republic of Iran, which experienced the worst drought in decades. Economic recovery and stronger demand for wheat based products in the Philippines and the republic of Korea also signal higher imports.

This report is prepared on the responsibility of the FAO Secretariat with information from official and unofficial sources. Since conditions may change rapidly, please contact Mr. Abdur Rashid, Chief, ESCG, FAO, (Fax: 0039-06-5705-4495, E-Mail (INTERNET): GIEWS1@FAO.ORG) for further information if required.

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