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GIEWS Update-detail
Food supply and food security situation in countries affected by the Asia tsunami

(First version: 14 January 2005)

The earthquake and tsunamis of 26 December 2004 in 12 countries of the Indian Ocean have reportedly killed over 150 000 people, made an estimated five million persons homeless, resulted in massive displacement of population and caused extensive damage to infrastructure. The worst-hit sector is fisheries, especially in Sri Lanka, but severe localized crop and livestock losses have also been reported, particularly in Indonesia and Maldives. At the national level, while all countries were affected, smaller countries such as Sri Lanka and the Maldives are likely to suffer relatively heavier economic consequences from the tsunami disaster.

Even in cases in which national economic impacts are limited, local communities will experience severe food security impacts in the short and long-term because parents and relatives have been lost, livelihood assets have been destroyed, and previous sources of income no longer exist. At the farm level, losses of rice stocks are also likely to be important.

It is estimated that 2 million people in different countries in the disaster region are in need of emergency food assistance, mostly in Indonesia, Sri-Lanka, Maldives, Myanmar and Somalia. WFP plans to distribute 169 000 tonnes of food aid to the most needy population over a period of six months. For the same period, FAO has appealed for US$26.5 million to finance emergency rehabilitation projects to assist farmers and fisher folk hit by the tsunami. Another US$2.1 million have been appealed for projects in partnership with UNDP and UNEP.

Rice is the main staple in all countries of the region. In Indonesia and Sri-Lanka, the 2005 main season paddy crop, for harvest from March, had been planted before the tsunami arrived. In southern Thailand, harvest of the main paddy crop was underway. In southern India, the secondary Rabi paddy crop was on the ground. A detailed evaluation of crop and livestock losses in coastal areas affected by floods is not yet available. However, preliminary assessments indicate that crop damage has been localized and that its impact on national food productions and supplies is likely to be limited. The extent of infrastructure collapse in the agricultural sector, as well as the land and forest degradation, due to erosion and silting up of fields, needs careful assessment.

In spite of local crop losses, overall food availability in the affected region appears adequate to cover the immediate food assistance needs. Among the countries most severely affected by the wave surges, Thailand and India are consistently large exporters of rice. Myanmar has also an exportable surplus in 2005. Indonesia, while a food importer, gathered a bumper paddy crop in 2004 and carries adequate levels of stocks. Sri-Lanka had a relatively large rice deficit last year, and the Maldives are a net importer, but their relief food needs could be covered by supplies in neighbouring countries. Since relatively large rice supplies are available in the region, it is recommended that local purchases be made whenever possible in order to meet food aid requirements in the different affected countries, so as to avoid domestic food markets disturbances. Given the damage to infrastructure, in particular roads and ports, and the lack of suitable transportation means, access to the affected population is difficult.

The situation in the worst affected countries is summarized below.


The provinces most affected by the tsunami, Aceh and North Sumatra in Sumatra Island, are among the most vulnerable areas in the country, with one-third of the population living below the poverty line. As a result of high population density and land scarcity in these areas, many farm families cultivate very small plots and engage in diverse farm and non-farm activities. According to latest information more than 113 000 people are reported dead. Fifty per cent of the population in Aceh province has reportedly been seriously affected. In the province of North Sumatra, the tsunami has affected two districts: Nias and Tapanuli Tengah. Many farmers have lost much of their tools, equipments and livestock, including draft animals. Fields have been levelled and water reservoirs destroyed, along with irrigation and drainage facilities. It is estimated that 1 million persons are in immediate need of emergency food assistance.

In Aceh province, agriculture is important for the economy, accounting for 32.2 % of regional GDP and employing 47.6% of the labor force in 2003. In agriculture, food crop production was the predominant activity with minor contributions from horticulture, plantations and animal husbandry.

The 2005 main season paddy and maize crops, to be harvested from March, were already on the ground when the tsunami hit Sumatra. The island of Sumatra is the second in Indonesia in terms of rice production, but the two worst affected provinces together (all districts) account for only some 10 percent of the aggregate national output in a normal year (Table 1). Earthquake and tsunami damages were mainly concentrated in western and north-eastern coastal areas. It was reported that agricultural areas have been seriously affected up to 2 kilometers from the coastline in the west coast, while about 1 kilometer badly affected in the eastern coast. Preliminary assessments indicate that some 50 000 hectares of irrigated lands have been devastated by the floods. The immediate crop losses are estimated at 80 000 tonnes of unhushed rice and 160 000 tonnes of other crops. Besides the immediate losses in crop production, sand and mud deposits on the agricultural land plus erosion, salinization, and irrigation scheme damage, may result in some permanent loss in agricultural land (some 5 000 to 7 500 hectares) and future crop losses. The crop damage will have a serious impact on food security for the affected populations, although it is not expected to affect overall prospects for the 2005 main paddy harvest.

Table 1: Major Foodcrops Area and Production in Aceh and North Sumatra Provinces, 2003

  Paddy Maize Soybean Peanut Cassava
  Area (‘000 ha) Prod (‘000 tonnes) Area (‘000 ha) Prod. (‘000 tonnes) Area (‘000 ha) Prod. (‘000 tonnes) Area (‘000 ha) Prod. (‘000 tonnes) Area (‘000 ha) Prod. (‘000 tonnes)
Aceh 367.6 1547.5 25.2 67.4 14.5 18.7 14.2 16.9 16.9 6.1
North Sumatra 825.2 3403.1 210.8 687.4 9.9 10.5 23.0 25.1 25.1 33.5
Total Indonesia 11488.0 52137.6 3358.5 10886.4 526.8 671.6 683.5 785.5 785.5 1244.5

The aggregate 2004 paddy output (main and secondary seasons) was officially estimated at 54 million tonnes, some 3 percent above the good harvest of 2003. Indonesia has been a large rice importer in recent years. Following last year’s bumper crop, the Government banned imports of rice in 2004. Stocks in the country are sufficient to cover the immediate food needs of the population affected by wave surges.

Livestock has been a growing sector in Aceh province. The preliminary estimate indicates that 23 300 large ruminants, 21 000 small ruminants, and about 2.5 million poultry birds were lost due to Tsunami.

Fisheries sector is an important economic activity for Sumatra Island, accounting for about one-third of the national fish catches. The sector provides employment to over 100 000 people in the disaster affected areas of Aceh Province and Northern Sumatra. Some 15-20% of the fishers in the 18 worst affected kabupatens have been killed. It is estimated that the output of Aceh’s fishing industry will fall 60% this year. The losses of fishing equipment and gear, and the destruction and damage to fishery infrastructure and facilities, including fish ports and fishponds will have a long term negative impact to national and local economy.

Sri Lanka

Over 30 000 people are reported dead, 750 000 displaced, and at least 200 000 homeless as a result of the tsunami. The worst affected districts are Galle, Matara, Hambantota, Ampara, Batticaloa, Tricomalee, Mullativu, Kuchaveli, and Jaffna It is estimated that some 750 000 of the most vulnerable population are in need of international food aid assistance.

The hardest-hit eastern and southern coastal districts are among the large paddy growing areas in the country, accounting for one-third of the production of the main Maha cropping season (Table 2). Planting of the 2005 Maha paddy crop had been completed when the tsunami arrived. However, preliminary assessments indicate that waves penetrated only 0.5 km on average resulting in little agricultural damage. Preliminary official estimates indicate that 2 600 hectares of paddy, 2150 hectares of other crops, and 150 hectares of fruit have been lost. At overall level, persistent heavy rains and floods from mid-December in eastern parts have adversely affected the emerging paddy crop, particularly in Ampara, Batticoloa and Trincomalee districts. Prospects for the harvest, scheduled to start in March, have deteriorated in these areas.

Table 2: Paddy Production in the Worst Affected Districts in Sri Lanka, 2003

  Area Harvested (‘000 ha) Production (‘000 tonnes)
  Maha Season Yala Season Total Maha Season Yala Season Total
Galle 15.6 10.6 26.2 41.9 21.6 63.5
Matara 14.0 13.4 27.4 38.9 29.8 68.7
Hambantota 16.3 18.5 34.7 65.0 60.6 125.6
Ampara 56.7 51.8 108.5 229.0 222.1 451.1
Batticoloa 44.3 18.8 63.2 101.0 55.2 156.2
Trincomalee 25.1 12.8 37.9 81.0 49.7 130.7
Mullativu 9.6 1.7 11.4 27.0 6.1 33.1
Killinochchi 8.9 3.2 12.1 26.0 9.4 35.4
Jaffna 6.5 0.0 6.5 20.0 0.0 20.0
SRI LANKA TOTAL 559.6 351.9 911.4 1896.8 1176.6 3073.4

The 2004 paddy production was sharply reduced by dry weather. Based on the findings of FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Missions the aggregate output (Maha and Yala seasons) was estimated close to 2.5 million tones, 20 percent below the level of the previous year. Total cereal import requirements in marketing year 2004/05 were forecast at 1.42 million tonnes, including food aid for drought-affected population. The country’s already tight food supply situation could worsen further in 2005/06 should the Maha crop be reduced. Weather conditions in the coming month will be crucial for the final outcome of the harvest.

In coastal areas, fishery is the major economic activity, providing direct employment to about 250 000 people. In recent years the fishery industry has emerged as a dynamic export-oriented sector, generating substantial foreign exchange earnings. Preliminary estimates indicate that 66 percent of the fishing fleet and industrial infrastructure in coastal regions have been destroyed by the wave surges, which will have adverse economic effects both at local and national levels.


Most of the country’s 400 km western coastline, including numerous islands in the Andaman Sea has been devastated by the tsunami. Some 5 300 people are reported dead and thousands more have been affected. In the worst-struck south-eastern provinces of Ranong, Phang Nga, Phuket, Krabi, Trang and Satun damage to tourism and fishing infrastructure is extensive. The country has not made any formal request for international food assistance.

In the Southern region, including the affected provinces, harvesting of the 2004 main season paddy crop was underway when the tsunami hit coastal areas. The whole Southern region (14 provinces) accounts for only 4 percent of the country’s annual paddy crop. A preliminary assessment indicates no major damage to agriculture, with only 800 hectares of land affected by floods.

Thailand is the world’s largest rice exporter. Following a succession of bumper harvests, coupled with high international prices, exports in 2004 are preliminary estimated at a record level of 9.9 million tonnes. Fortunately, port activities both in Bangkok and Ko Si Chang do not appear to have been affected by the tidal wave. With the harvest of the 2005 main rice crop just about to be completed, current rice availabilities are, in principle, ample and sufficient to cover the immediate food needs in the affected areas of both Thailand and neighbouring countries.

In the fishery sector, 490 fishing villages with an estimated population of 100 000 to 120 000 have suffered serious losses of boats and fishing materials. Some 4 500 boats fishing boats, were either damaged or totally wrecked. Preliminary estimates indicate that damages on fisheries alone would amount to US$16.6 million. Aquaculture is also important sector in the west coast of Thailand, especially in the creeks and delta mouths. The damage to aquaculture floating cages was estimated at about US$ 32.7 million, with a total of 15,802 cages being damaged.


Over 10 000 people are confirmed dead, with about 6 000 missing in the worst hit south-eastern coastal states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, and in the islands of Andaman and Nicobar. The state of Kerala, in the south west, was also seriously affected. Fishing communities are likely to have born the brunt of the damage and losses of livelihood. International food assistance has not been requested by the Government.

Paddy is a major crop in the two most affected southern states, which together account for some 14 percent of the national aggregate production of rice. When the tsunami struck coastal areas, the 2005 secondary Rabi season crop, due for harvesting from April, was on the ground. Localized crop losses are reported in the worst affected areas with no impact at national level, but a detailed assessment is not yet available.

India is an important exporter of wheat and rice. Production of paddy in 2004 declined slightly from the good level of the previous year. As a result of this, as well as tight carry-over stocks, exports in 2005 are expected to decrease to some 2 million tonnes. However, at this level, rice surplus is more than sufficient to cover the food aid needs in the country’s worst-affected areas.

The fishery and aquaculture sectors in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, and in the islands of Andaman and Nicobar have suffered major damages. Many fishing villages in these areas have lost human life, fishing boats, hatchery facilities, shelters and other belongings. In Andhra Pradesh along, normally producing some 25-30 percent of India total seafood exports, 2 000 fishing boats were estimated lost; some 300 000 fishers were rendered jobless; and some 400 fish tanks were damaged.


High waves and floods inundated all the islands. Large areas of the capital Male, where about one-third of the population lives, were left under water. Over 80 people have been reported dead, many others missing, 21 600 people are displaced and 12 000 homeless. Overall, more than one third of Maldives' 199 inhabited islands are completely or severely destroyed. The shallowness of the water limited the tsunami's destructive power, but flooding was extensive. International emergency food aid has been targeted for 50 000 most vulnerable affected people. The dispersion of population over 200 islands scattered over 900 km makes complex the provision of relief assistance.

The tsunami resulted in severe damage to housing and infrastructure in the tourism and fishing sectors. Tourism is the largest industry of the country, accounting for some 30 percent of GDP, over 60 percent of the foreign exchange receipts and about 90 percent of government tax revenues. Fishing is the second leading sector in the economy. Hundreds of boats, jetties, and harbors have been destroyed or damaged and total economic losses in the sector are preliminary estimated at US $ 47.6. Agriculture, constrained by the limited availability of arable land and shortages of domestic labour, plays a minor role in the overall economy but it is an income generation activity for rural households and contributed to their food security. Losses to agriculture are severe, with an estimated 50 percent of the agricultural field plots completely destroyed due to saline water intrusion and floods. Perennial trees such as coconuts, breadfruits and mango have been uprooted. Banana trees have been also severely damaged by saline water.The country’s cereal consumption requirements, averaging some 40 000 tonnes per year, are normally covered by commercial imports.


It is estimated that 53 people have died and some 200 villages in the southern coast have suffered from the impact of the tsunami. The worst affected areas are the Laputta Township in the Ayeyawaddy Division, inhabited by poor subsistence farmers and fishing families. International food aid has been targeted for some 30 000 worst affected population. The country exports limited quantities of rice and the available surplus in 2005 should be sufficient to cover the immediate food aid needs of the affected populations. Local purchases are, therefore, recommended.


Coastal areas on Mahe and Praslin Islands and to a lesser extent on La Digue and Cerf Islands suffered severe flooding and considerable damage to housing and infrastructure, such as bridges and roads, as well as the fishing port, jetties, hotels, and public utilities. The cost of the damages has been preliminary estimated at US $ 30 million by the National Disaster Committee in the Seychelles. The Government has appealed for international assistance in the amount of US$ 8.9 million for the next 6 months for rehabilitation of the most serious damage and to restore livelihoods in the main islands of Seychelles. The small fishing sector has been the worst-hit. A great number of fishing vessels were damaged or lost. The two fish processing plants and cold storage facilities located in the Fishing Port in Victoria were also affected. While the contribution of the fishery sector is small and has been declining in past years, it remains one of the traditional activities in Seychelles providing an important source of incomes for rural households. The services sector, including tourism, dominates the economy and has accounted for just fewer than 70 percent of GDP in recent years. Most of the country’s food needs are met through commercial imports.

Bangladesh/ Malaysia Bangladesh and Malaysia, among others, were also hit by the disaster but the damage, mainly in the fishery sector, was limited relative to that in the worst affected areas. These countries gathered good 2004 paddy harvests but are traditional net importers of rice. While Malaysia covers all its cereal import needs on commercial basis, Bangladesh is a least developed country and receives food aid on a regular basis.


It is the African country worst-hit by the tsunami, with damage concentrated along the north east coast, on the tip of the Horn of Africa. Up to 300 Somalis are reported to have died, with thousands more homeless and many fishermen still unaccounted for. About 30 000 people have been displaced. The residual tsunami effect destroyed 1180 homes, smashed 2 400 boats and rendered freshwater wells and reservoirs unusable. It is estimated that 54 000 people are in need of relief assistance. Poor communication infrastructure in the country hampers distribution operations.

Summary Table: Impact on Agriculture and Food Security

  Fishery and Aquaculture Tourism Agriculture and Livestock Rice Trade Position in 2000-03 Food Availability in 2005 Food Mobility
Indonesia Important for Sumatra Island; 70% of the small scale fishing fleet in Aceh destroyed   Crops on 50 000 ha devastated; 44 000 large and small ruminants and 2.5 million poultry birds lost Net rice importer Bumper paddy crop in 2004 and adequate stock Floods and civil strife in Aceh
Sri Lanka Important in coastal area; 80% fishing fleet and infrastructure in coastal area destroyed Important 2 600 ha of paddy, 2150 ha of other crops, and 150 ha of fruit have been lost Net rice importer Drought in 2004 and big grain deficit in 2005 Floods and civil strife in north and east regions
Maldives Important and seriously damaged Very important (30% of GDP) Not important in national economy. However, loss of agriculture in some islands is severe Net rice importer Reduced purchasing power Serious problem as the population is dispersed over 200 islands and scattered over 900 kms
India Very important and seriously damaged Not important Localized crop losses (12 000 ha) with little impact at national level Large rice and wheat exporter Continues to export  
Thailand Important and damage is extensive Very important Not important and small damage to current crop (800 ha) Largest rice exporter Continues to export  
Myanmar Poor fishing families affected   Poorest subsistence farmers affected Small rice exporter Small surplus available  
Somalia Smashed 2 400 boats and damaged freshwater wells and reserviors   Salt pans are flooded and pastures destroyed Net grain importer Continues to import Security in the affected areas remains a concern
Seychelles Fishery sector is small,but has been the worst-hit Important in the economy ,but small impact Not important Net grain importer Continues to import Poor communication infrastructure