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Press Release 97/54

MONGOLIA FACES SERIOUS FOOD SITUATION CHRONIC UNDERNUTRITION IN CHILDREN IS RISING SHARPLY


Rome, 22 October - Mongolia faces a serious food deficit and needs urgent emergency aid for 143 000 most vulnerable people, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The number of poor people experiencing a dramatic fall in nutritional standards is growing, FAO warned in a special report "FAO Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission to Mongolia", released today and based on a two-week mission.

Economic reforms have resulted in a significant increase in poverty, loss of employment, reduction in consumption, cuts in safety nets and social sector services. Most affected are vulnerable groups such as the unemployed, the elderly, female headed households, children, pensioners and small herders whose purchasing power has been significantly decreased by high inflation, the report said. Around 453,000 people, or some 20 percent of the population are poor.

"Without additional assistance, these groups, especially a growing population of abandoned 'street children', will face great hardship in future," according to FAO. Chronic under-nutrition in children has risen to around 25 percent as poor households are shifting towards cheaper and less nutritious food.

Agriculture in Mongolia has been seriously affected by the transition from a centrally planned economy to a market economy and by the withdrawal of substantial technical and economic assistance from the former USSR. Since 1990, yields have declined dramatically, FAO said.

For 1997, wheat production is expected to reach 282,000 tons, some 28 percent above output in 1996, mainly due to improved rainfall. Despite this increase, production remains only 40 percent of the pre-1990 level.

The decline is largely caused by high national debt, reduced access to credit, high interest rates, a critical shortage of inputs and farm machinery, according to FAO. Agriculture urgently needs large scale investments in machinery, chemicals, input supply, marketing and training.

The radical reforms of the livestock sector, which accounts for 88 percent to gross agricultural output, have led to the break-up of large state enterprises into smaller units. As a result, the infrastructure such as wells have broken down, veterinary services have been cut back, fodder production has decreased, marketing systems are under-developed and investment capital is unavailable or unaffordable to most herders. This has created many vulnerable households.

The mission estimated food aid requirements for 1997/98 at 90 000 tons. Around 23,000 tons should be provided as emergency food aid for the absolute poor.

 


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