FAO GLOBAL INFORMATION AND EARLY WARNING SYSTEM ON FOOD AND AGRICULTURE

SPECIAL ALERT No.297

Date: 7 October 1999

(Circulated only in situations where foodcrops or supply conditions give rise to concern)

FOOD SECURITY OF THE DISPLACED POPULATION IN THE NORTH CAUCASUS GIVES CAUSE FOR CONCERN

Recent military action in Chechnya has led to a large scale displacement of population, with some 120 000 people, mainly women and children, fleeing from Chechnya to neighbouring areas. The bulk of the displaced population has moved to neighbouring Ingushetia, while some people have moved to other adjoining areas including North Ossetia, Stavropol Krai and Dagestan. Although Chechen refugees have found shelter among the local Ingushetia population, they are in need of food and other essential items, including blankets and stoves. Those who have not found lodging with the host populations are also in urgent need of shelter.

Ingushetia, which is a small, impoverished and mountainous landlocked Autonomous Republic within the Russian Federation, is currently hosting about 105 000 displaced Chechen refugees and is unable to cope with this sudden and massive influx. About half of Ingushetia's population of roughly 300 000 is unemployed, and the Republic is dependent on the Russian Federation for a large share of its annual budget. However, Russia's capacity to support Ingushetia's economy is likely to be constrained due to severe economic difficulties faced by the Federation itself and a drastic reduction in food production in 1998/99, which has necessitated the provision of nearly 2 million tonnes of international food aid to the Federation. The Russian Government has recently requested an additional 5 million tonnes of food aid in the current marketing year and has also urged the international community to provide assistance to Ingush Government for the displaced people.

Official statistics indicate that annual grain production in Ingushetia is of the order of 40 000 tonnes including about 14 000 tonnes of wheat and 11 000 tonnes of barley. Fruit, vegetables and livestock products complement the diet, but the Republic is far from self-sufficient in its food requirements. With a per caput wheat production of less than 50 kg per person, it is barely able to cope with the basic food needs of its own population, let alone providing support to the refugees. Food stocks of the Ingushetia households are being rapidly depleted. The approaching winter, with temperatures falling to -20oC, would mean considerable hardship to the refugees.

The short-term outlook for agriculture and food production in Chechnya is bleak due to the damage and civil disruption caused by the military actions especially in the more fertile areas north of Grozny. The current crisis could lead to the loss of a large part of the recently harvested 1999 crops, livestock and the winter grains sown for harvest in 2000. Prior to the 1994-1996 military conflict, of the 400 000 hectares of arable land in Chechnya, some 150 000-120 000 hectares were planted with winter grains and the balance with spring crops and fodder. However, the agriculture sector was seriously disrupted by the destruction caused during the 1994-1996 conflict, which killed an estimated 80 000, left many people homeless, much of the essential infrastructure destroyed and many fields mined. The current crisis, apart from its adverse implications on the agriculture sector, would also stem the flow of informal cross border trade, seriously undermining the food security of the Chechen population in urban and rural areas. Living conditions in Grozny, already extremely difficult in the wake of the destruction in the 1994-1996 conflict, have further worsened. The city is now without electricity, gas and water. The gas supplies to the Republic have been totally cut off.

In view of the highly uncertain situation in Chechnya and its implications for neighbouring autonomous Republics, it is essential that the international community put in place contingency plans for humanitarian assistance to cope with the deteriorating situation. The virtual absence of humanitarian agencies in the affected Republics at present makes an independent verification of the vulnerable people and food needs difficult. However, there is little doubt that substantial humanitarian assistance will be required in the coming months.

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

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