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Annex 2. Opening statement


He Changchui
Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific

delivered at the

Regional workshop on Strategies for rehabilitation and management of salt-affected soil from sea water intrusion

31 March to 1 April 2005
Bangkok, Thailand

Distinguished delegates
Representatives from partners, donors and NGOs
FAO colleagues
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to welcome all participants to this regional workshop on Salt-affected soil from sea water intrusion.

The world is still trying to grasp the enormity of the 26 December 2004 tsunami that devastated the coastal areas of the Asian countries around the Indian Ocean. The impact of this natural disaster on local populations was extremely severe in terms of death and injury, livelihood disruption, and loss of assets. It took more than 285 000 lives in Southeast Asia and East Africa and affected the livelihoods and economic basis of millions of farmers and fisher folks of many coastal communities. Rebuilding these livelihoods is one of the main challenges facing the affected governments and international organizations and its partners.

The world has come together not only with expressions of grief and concern, but with speedy humanitarian assistance, both in kind and cash for the victims. Immediately after the disaster, FAO had mobilized teams of national and international experts already present in the area to assess the damage to the agriculture and fisheries sectors and identify the assistance needed. Following the rapid assessments, FAO as a partner in the January United Nations Tsunami Flash Appeal called for US$26.5 million to provide emergency aid to the farming and fishery communities hit by the tsunami, and US$2.5 million for regional activities in partnership with UNDP and UNEP. Three months after the disaster, the emergency relief operation has been continued to provide direct assistance to the affected communities and local peoples with large numbers of FAO experts working in the fields.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In agriculture, the damages to crop production are mainly due to the intrusion of sea water into soils and the deposition of saline sediments onto agricultural lands. In addition, the sea waves have destructed irrigation and drainage facilities, other agricultural infrastructures, implements, tools and standing crops as well as marketing facilities. The tsunami thus resulted in considerable losses of lives, capital and livelihoods for small farmers in the affected areas. In Indonesia, over 30 000 ha of rice production was damaged due to salinity. On the northwest coast, as many as 92 000 farms and small enterprises have been destroyed affecting the livelihoods of about 160 000 people. It is estimated that about 900 hectare of land in Thailand was damaged. In Sri Lanka, waves penetrated on average 0.5 km, damaging about 4 200 hectare of agriculture land and ravaging some 25 000 home gardens which although limited in terms of areas are critical for vulnerable people. Indeed, these small farmers are fully or partially relying on the harvests for family consumption or sale for their food security or even sheer survival.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is actively involved in numerous ways in assisting these countries for the resumption of agricultural activities. A number of emergency assistance projects are ongoing to support the farming communities in the affected regions who lost their production, assets and subsequently the means to support their livelihood and who are unlikely to meet the immediate food needs of their families without assistance. To assess the damages to agricultural lands and to plan appropriate interventions, assessment missions were undertaken, including planning and identifying appropriate measures for reclamation of salt-affected soils.

While such short-term assistance is indispensable, FAO is also contributing to strategizing medium- and long-term rehabilitation programmes in collaboration with development partners and government ministries, in addition to working with national institutes, CGIAR centres, academic institutions, and NGOs to restore livelihoods and the ecosystems in the affected areas. Due emphasis is given by FAO to enhancing rural development and food security, as well as to ensuring that capacities are rebuilt in accordance with the requirements of sustainable resource use and improved environmental protection.

A number of issues play a significant role in carrying on agricultural activities and restore crop production in the affected areas. These include rehabilitation of damaged agricultural areas and infrastructures; reclamation of salt-affected soils for resumption of crop production; appropriate land use planning and strategic adjustment of cropping systems; and rehabilitation of irrigation and drainage systems.

With these issues in focus, the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific is convening a regional workshop to bring together interested parties involved in post-tsunami salt-affected soil assessment and rehabilitation work. The workshop will provide participants an opportunity to share information, collectively assess initial findings related to rehabilitation needs and opportunities, share plans and proposals for future rehabilitation work, and develop mechanisms for collaboration and joint activities. This workshop is the fourth in a series of workshops organized by the FAO in Bangkok related to the tsunami rehabilitation. The first workshop focused on rehabilitation of fisheries and aquaculture in coastal communities of tsunami-affected countries. The second workshop dealt with the rehabilitation of tsunami-affected forest ecosystems, while the third one on financial and credit support - held last week - was organized jointly with the Asia-Pacific Rural and Agricultural Credit Association.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The overall goal of the proposed workshop is to strengthen and enhance rehabilitation efforts for the reclamation of salt-affected soils in tsunami-affected areas and to identify suitable management practices for sustainable crop production.

The immediate objectives include:

1) identify and exchange information on appropriate methods for reclamation and management of salt-affected soils for resumption of agricultural production;

2) recommend technical guidelines for alternative planning of sustainable land management and improved saline soil mitigation;

3) strengthen coordination and collaboration of national, regional and international agencies involved in rehabilitation and management of salt-affected soils in tsunami-affected areas; and

4) develop a regional strategic framework for coordination and action to be taken at the regional level to support the affected countries in rehabilitation of tsunami-affected soils and to address other land and water management issues in the rehabilitation phase and reconstruction phase.

It gives me much pleasure to see participants from all the affected countries, and representatives from a large number of international and regional organizations at this workshop. This indeed is a reflection of the importance of our joint undertaking, and the need for enhanced coordinated efforts in rehabilitating salt-affected lands along the tsunami-affected areas. The coastal forest ecosystem, with its important functions of livelihood support, environmental protection and biodiversity should receive our due attention. The task ahead of us is complex and challenging, and no single organization can deal with it effectively alone. FAO is ready and willing to work with partners to undertake the work that lies ahead.

I am confident that your collective wisdom and expertise provide a firm footing to build this strategy for rehabilitation.

I wish you well in your endeavour and look forward to seeing the output of this workshop.

I hereby declare the workshop open. Thank you.

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