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Press Release 97/73


Rome, December 11 -- A near record number of countries are facing shortfalls in food supplies in the current marketing year and will need emergency assistance, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported today. Listing 37 countries in trouble, the FAO report Foodcrops and Shortages said: "In Central America and the Caribbean the first season crops have been adversely affected by El Nino"and drier than normal conditions forecast in the months ahead "could affect second season production, raising concern for planting of 1998 main season crops," according to the report. The impact of El Nino forced the addition of five Central American countries onto the FAO food problem list.

Responding to the worsening situation, on December 2, FAO's Director-General and the Executive Director of the World Food Programme jointly approved an emergency operation funded at almost $9.4 million to provide six months of emergency food assistance to 323,000 people in the five stricken Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.

The report says food and cash crops in the Andean countries are also threatened by El Nino, while northeast Brazil has been hit by a serious drought forecast to worsen over the next few months. "Heavy rains and floods attributed to El Nino have caused serious crop damage in eastern Africa" and "threaten crops in several parts of Asia," said the report.

The head of FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System, Abdur Rashid, said, "With 37 countries on FAO's warning list, we are seeing the largest number of countries with food problems since 1984, when there were 40 on the list. If El Nino hits southern Africa with force, the number of countries in trouble could rise well above 40."

Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand face reduced crop production because of El Nino related drought, the report said. "The food situation in parts of Indonesia is extremely tight and the Government is providing emergency assistance. Elsewhere, food security in Korea DPR (North Korea) worsens as prolonged drought seriously reduces grain production. Drought also significantly reduced maize output in China and threatens planting of winter wheat."

In Europe the picture is better. The FAO report says 1997 cereal output rose by "4 percent, reflecting recovery in several of the region's eastern countries. Widespread rainfall and mild temperatures have favoured winter grain establishment for 1998 crops in western parts, but in the southeast cold weather delayed planting and affected crop establishment."

The report forecasts "a significant increase in the cereal and pulse harvests" in the countries of the former USSR, saying, "most of the increase reflects recovery in the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Moldova, following drought-reduced crops last year.

The report foresees coarse grains output in the United States coming close to last year's good level and says in Australia, 1997 cereal prospects remain good following favourable rainfall in recent weeks. However, it notes, "in parts of New South Wales, where dry conditions prevail, serious fires are threatening crops and disrupting harvesting.

The countries in need of emergency assistance are: Afghanistan, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Burkina Faso*, Burundi, Republic of Congo*, Democratic Republic of Congo, El Salvador*, Eritrea, Ethiopia, The Gambia*, Georgia, Guatemala*, Haiti, Honduras*, Iraq, Kenya, North Korea, Laos, Liberia, Mauritania, Mongolia, Mozambique, Nicargua*, Niger, Panama*, Papua New Guinea*, Rwanda, Senegal*, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Tanzania and Uganda.

There are 16 countries facing unfavorable prospects for current crops. They are: Colombia*, Cook Islands*, Costa Rica*, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Indonesia*, Nicaragua, Panama*, Papua New Guinea*, Philippines*, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands*, Somalia* and Thailand*. Causes for the unfavorable prospects range from adverse weather, including drought and floods to civil strife.

New countries added to the FAO Foodcrops and Shortages released today.

For further information contact: John Riddle at (396) 5705-3259


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