GLOBAL INFORMATION AND EARLY WARNING SYSTEM ON FOOD AND AGRICULTURE 

SPECIAL ALERT NO. 286 : THE CARIBBEAN

(Circulated only for countries where foodcrops or supply situation conditions give rise to concern)

DATE: 13 October 1998

HURRICANE "GEORGES" CAUSES EXTENSIVE CROP DAMAGE IN CARIBBEAN COUNTRIES


OVERVIEW

Between 20 and 25 of September, hurricane "Georges" swept across the Caribbean, bringing torrential rain, widespread flooding and sustained high-force winds. The hurricane left extensive damage to housing and infrastructure in all the island states. Thousands are homeless and without potable water. Haiti and the Dominican Republic were hit hardest but Cuba also sustained considerable crop losses and physical damage. The islands of St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica and Puerto Rico have also been affected, but to a lesser extent. In St. Kitts and Nevis, with a population of 39 000, some 3 000 people have lost their homes.

After the dismal performance of last year's crops, reduced by El Niño-related droughts, hopes for a recovery in 1998 have been thwarted. Foodcrops have been water-logged and lodged and tree crops uprooted by the high winds. In parts of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, as much as 80 to 90 percent of the cropped area have reportedly been destroyed. In Cuba, already experiencing tight food supplies after this year's severe drought, cash and food crop damage was extensive. Crop losses have also been reported in St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Puerto Rico, and Dominica, but most of the damage has been inflicted to housing.

A detailed assessment of the damages caused by the hurricane is underway in the affected countries. Priority interventions requiring international support include relief assistance to the affected populations and the emergency agricultural rehabilitation.

The current situation in the most affected countries and the initial actions taken to cope with the effects of the hurricane are given below:


CUBA

In late September torrential rains and flooding affected particularly the provinces of Guantánamo, Holguín, Las Tunas, Granma, and Santiago de Cuba in the extreme eastern parts of the Island which had suffered extreme El Niño-induced drought conditions earlier in the year. Evacuation of more than half a million people helped prevent a worse loss of life. Extensive damage, however, was wrought on housing and infrastructure, as well as to some important crops. Plantains, a basic staple in the population’s diet, were severely damaged.

One of the country's main plantains plantation, located in Ciego de Avila province, reported potential losses of up to 70 percent. The economically vital sugar cane crop for 1998/99 was badly affected. This had already in 1997/98 suffered from its lowest output in the last 50 years; in addition, various sugar mills are reported damaged. Coffee plantations suffered from the hurricane and large number of trees were uprooted. Damage to cocoa plantations and other minor foodcrops is also reported. Following the severe disruption to harvesting of the sugar cane crop in the early part of the year and the large losses in foodcrop production caused by the early 1998 drought, the losses inflicted by the hurricane represent a further blow to the vulnerable agricultural sector and have further aggravated an already difficult food supply situation in the country. An emergency appeal for 34 000 tonnes of relief food to assist some 615 000 persons mostly nursing mothers, school children and drought victims in the eastern provinces had been launched in early September before the hurricane struck. A UN Disaster Assessment Team is expected to be fielded shortly to quantify the additional assistance required to cope with the effects of the hurricane.


DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

The hurricane caused a significant number of casualties and reportedly left more than 100 000 people homeless. Roads and bridges in some areas were swept away by the floods and public buildings collapsed under the force of the winds and rains. The impact has been the worst in the provinces of La Romana and San Pedro de Macoris, in the south-east, in the capital province of Santo Domingo, and in the provinces of San Juan, Bahoruco and Barahona, located in the southwest of the Island and parts of the north-east. Some of the affected areas are among the main crop growing areas in the country. An early official assessment of damages to the agricultural sector indicates that 90 percent of food and export crops were affected to a varying extent. Chances of recovering from the effects of the 1997 drought have vanished particularly for some of the short-cycle crops such as various types of vegetable, fruits and roots. About 190 000 hectares under foodcrops have been severely affected, which include some of the main staples in the population’s diet such as rice, plantains and bananas, and roots (yams, sweet potatoes and cassava). It is provisionally estimated that about 20 000 hectares of paddy and 48 000 hectares of plantains have been affected. Rice imports would be required to compensate for the considerable losses incurred. The important foreign exchange earning tobacco and sugar cane plantations also sustained extensive damage. It is officially reported that 90 percent of the country’s sugar plantations were seriously affected. The poultry industry, an important sector in the economy of the country, suffered substantial losses. An assessment of damage to the livestock sector has not been made yet. Many forest areas are reported to be significantly affected. Serious damage was also inflicted to the important tourist industry. A detailed assessment of damage incurred to all sectors is being undertaken by UN agencies. Emergency food aid to about 25 000 persons and other types of relief assistance are presently being provided by the international community. Plans for the rehabilitation of agricultural activities in the affected zones are in the process of being formulated.


HAITI

Almost the whole country has been severely affected by rains, flooding and mudslides in mountainous zones and in the poor settlements on the hillsides near the capital. A preliminary assessment of damage to the agricultural sector indicates that the developing 1997/98 second season sorghum crop, as well as the millet crop, mainly grown in the central plateau, the Artibonite valley, the southwest and the northern parts of the country, have been virtually destroyed. In the flooded zones, vegetable, roots and tubers and other minor food crops are reported ruined. In the south-west, provisional estimates indicate that about 80 percent of the important banana plantations are destroyed. Thousands of small farm animals have perished or declared lost. Before the hurricane struck, the country was expected to recover from the 1997 drought and normal crop production was anticipated. Food assistance needs from the international community, which had considerably declined from last year in view of the good results obtained from the1998 first season cereal crops, are thus expected to increase to compensate for the serious foodcrop losses now incurred. A full evaluation of damage is underway by international agencies in close collaboration with the Government. Technical assistance projects are being formulated for the rehabilitation of agricultural activities in the affected areas.

 

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, (Telex 610181 FAO I; Fax: 0039-06-5705-4495, E-Mail (INTERNET): GIEWS1@FAO.ORG) for further information if required.

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