FAO/GIEWS - Food Outlook No.1, February 1999

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The closing months of 1998 saw extreme weather anomalies, associated with the La Niña phenomenon, that resulted in catastrophic floods in parts of Latin America and Asia, with a heavy toll on human lives, loss of property, housing and crops, and extensive damage and destruction of infrastructure.

In Central America, hurricane "Mitch" was particularly devastating, causing over 9 500 casualties, severely affecting more than 3 million people and inflicting damage of unprecedented scale to housing, infrastructure and agriculture. Worst affected were Honduras and Nicaragua, where severe losses to foodcrops have been incurred, and production of major export commodities in 1999 is expected to be sharply reduced. El Salvador, Guatemala and some south-western parts of Mexico, as well as Costa Rica and Panama, also suffered the effects of the hurricane. Relief assistance has been received from the international community and programmes for the rehabilitation of agriculture have been initiated.

In Asia, several countries continue to face food supply difficulties mainly due to adverse weather. In Bangladesh, severe monsoon floods sharply reduced the main 1998 paddy crop. In Indonesia, despite a favourable outlook for the coming rice harvest in March/April, food security remains precarious following 1998's reduced rice crop and the effect of the economic crisis. In Afghanistan, prospects for the 1998 harvest in May/June remain uncertain, due mainly to ongoing fighting in the northern provinces, which account for much of the country’s cereal production. In Iraq, malnutrition remains a serious problem despite some improvement in food supply following the implementation of the oil-for-food deal. In DPR Korea, despite an improved cereal harvest, the grave food supply difficulties persist due to a combination of economic problems and adverse weather conditions. In Laos, despite recent delayed rains, prolonged drought in some provinces has caused severe crop damage exacerbating the already precarious food supply situation. In Mongolia, vulnerable sections of the population continue to face food supply problems.

In eastern Africa, despite a satisfactory overall cereal harvest in 1998, food supply difficulties persist due to weather adversities in parts and/or civil strife. In Sudan, some 2.36 million people are estimated to be in need of emergency food assistance in southern parts due to the long-running civil conflict. In Uganda, emergency food assistance is still needed for some 400 000 displaced people in northern areas, affected by continuing insurgency, as well as for 130 000 people in the east where the harvest was poor. In Tanzania, emergency food assistance is required in parts of central, northern and coastal regions where the harvest was reduced. In Ethiopia, some 2 million vulnerable people require food aid in the current year, excluding those in pastoral areas and displaced persons in the north. In Burundi and Rwanda, food assistance is needed for large numbers of displaced people affected by persistent insecurity in parts.

In western Africa, the food supply situation is critical in Sierra Leone, and remains difficult in Liberia. In the Sahel, food supply difficulties are likely in some parts of Cape Verde and Mauritania where 1998 harvests were below average. Difficulties are also expected in Burkina Faso, Senegal and Guinea-Bissau.

In central Africa, civil strife in the Democratic Republic of Congo continues to disrupt food production, particularly in the Kivu region in the east, where increasing population displacement is reported. The food supply situation is also deteriorating in Republic of Congo following renewed civil disturbances in the capital and several other towns.

In southern Africa, the food supply situation is anticipated to tighten in Angola in the coming months reflecting renewed fighting, and to remain tight in Zambia where production declined significantly last year due to adverse weather. Other countries including Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe have large cereal import requirements that are expected to be covered mainly by commercial imports, with limited food aid.

In the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the financial crisis in the Russian Federation has increased inflation and disrupted the economies of the countries in the region. The overall food supply is not critical, even in the Russian Federation, but the hardship experienced by the poor and other vulnerable groups such as the unemployed and pensioners has been exacerbated. Food aid shipments to provide relief to the most affected people and areas in the Russian Federation are just getting underway. In Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Tajikistan, vulnerable populations, including refugees, the displaced and the aged dependent on social benefits continue to need humanitarian assistance.

In Europe, displaced people in Bosnia-Herzogovina, Albania and the Kosovo Province of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia are receiving food assistance.

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