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Crisis cripples food production and distribution in Kosovo

The crisis in the Kosovo Province of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which began in March 1998, has crippled the Province's agricultural and food-processing industries, resulting in seriously reduced food output, supplies and availability, according a Special Alert issued by FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS).

As of 7 April, when all borders from Kosovo were closed, it is estimated that more than 620 000 people had fled civil strife in the Province, leaving behind thousands of destroyed and abandoned farms. Efforts to distribute limited food supplies have also been hampered by constrained movement within the country, compounding the already grave food situation.

Staple wheat supplies thought to be near exhaustion

"The eruption of civil strife in Kosovo in early 1998 had a devastating effect on the 1998 harvest," according to the Alert. Many fields of wheat, the province's staple cereal, were not harvested or were burned. Much of the crop that was collected was destroyed when houses, stores and granaries - especially targeted - were burnt to the ground. How much of the year's harvest was secured is unknown, according to the report, "but it is likely that supplies were sharply reduced and will by now be virtually exhausted".

Prospects for the current 1998/99 cropping season are "grim", according to the Special Alert. The wheat planting last autumn was largely missed as a result of insecurity and the basic lack of equipment and seeds. It is likely that normal spring grain and vegetable planting was not carried out at all. Violence, disease and abandonment are also reported to have caused huge losses in livestock, compounding food supply problems for the population remaining in the Province.

"The situation gives rise for great cause for concern as many of the population were already dependent on relief aid in late 1998, while the intensified violence in recent weeks has brought to a halt all relief operations in the Province," said the Alert.

Food supply situation for those remaining within Province is expected to deteriorate sharply

In response to the escalation of the crisis in recent weeks, FAO and the World Food Programme have approved an extension of the Emergency Operation (EMOP), which has already provided food assistance to internally displaced people and refugees in the region to mobilize additional relief to affected populations. However, without significant improvements in the security situation in Kosovo relief operations can only be directed at the refugees who have already fled the Province. As a result, the food supply situation for those displaced within the region and the remainder of the population is expected to deteriorate sharply and the crisis will have profound long-term food security implications. The report warned that, given the devastation of houses, farms and infrastructure, large-scale international assistance will be required to reestablish the region's agricultural production and commercial trade flows, probably for more than one season.

An FAO Mission is currently in Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to assess the rapidly changing refugee situation in those countries and to identify the emergency agricultural rehabilitation assistance needed in the near future.

14 April 1999

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