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Press Release 01/19

COAG meeting opens today in Rome
FAO WARNS THAT DAMAGE TO AGRICULTURE FROM STORM-RELATED DISASTERS MUST BE REDUCED


Rome, 26 March 2001 -- The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), citing the need to reduce the impact of storm-related disasters on agriculture, proposed a disaster management strategy, in a report presented to the 16th session of its Committee on Agriculture, which opened today.

"The most immediate and visible impact of storms on agriculture is the damage to standing crops, livestocks, household property, production assets and physical infrastructure. This may result in food supply shortages at household, community, and sometimes national levels," the report says.

Storm-related disasters have increased in frequency and intensity during the past decade. In tropical areas, the devastation caused by hurricanes rose dramatically during the 1990s, due in part to the increased population living in storm-prone areas, according to FAO.

"The most recent World Disaster Report of the International Federation of the Red Cross says, that during 1990-1999 wind storms and flood-related disasters together accounted for 60 percent of the total economic loss caused by natural disasters."

"The economic cost of damage to crops and infrastructure from floods in Central America in 1998 was estimated at $8.5 billion and that in Mozambique (February-March 2000) at $1 billion, reflecting a substantial dent in the GDP of the countries affected," the report indicates.

"Apart from the immediate devastation - death, injury, hunger and starvation - disasters disproportionately affect the poor, making them even poorer by destroying the few assets that they possess. Storms also destroy expensive long-term development projects, such as communication infrastructure, irrigation and other farming infrastructure. Because of this, storm-related disasters are a drain on development efforts," FAO says.

Each vulnerable country or region needs a strategy that incorporates long-term measures to reduce vulnerability to storm-related disasters. Measures should be integrated in the overall development program of the country, and in particular for storm and flood-prone areas. In addition, the strategy should include an early-warning and storm-forecasting system and a preparedness plan for relief and rehabilitation.

"A long-term development programme for reducing agricultural vulnerability to storm-related disasters should be developed on the basis of land-use evaluations, vulnerability and risk assessments, inventory of traditional community land-management practices and local coping strategies, as well as an assessment and identification of crop, livestock, fisheries and forestry practices and farming systems suitable for vulnerable areas," the report says.

There are many examples of land-use planning, agricultural, forestry and fisheries practices that increase resilience and reduce susceptibility to storm damage, if applied in an appropriate context. Examples include the introduction of more storm-resistant crops, such as tannia, ginger, pineapple, roots and tubers, diversified cropping systems, including conservation tillage, that offer insurance against crop losses, salt-resistant agriculture, forestry windbreaks or shelter belts, mangroves to serve as windbreaks and buffer zones as well as soil-conservation and water-management practices that reduce vulnerability to floods.

Agricultural communities in storm and flood-prone areas can also be protected through greater use of storm-resistant and protective structures, cyclone shelters and earth platforms to raise homestead ground levels.

During its current session (26-30 March), the FAO Committee on Agriculture will examine other important issues, such as climate variability and change, the place of agriculture in sustainable development, biosecurity in food and agriculture and a medium term plan (2002-2007) for agricultural development.

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For further information, please contact FAO's Media Relations Office Telephone: 0039.06.57052232, or consult FAO's web site: Committee on Agriculture, 16th Session, Rome, 26 - 30 March 2001


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