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GIEWS Update-detail
FAO/GIEWS Global Watch

30 October 2007

Impact of main natural disasters on food production in Latin America and the Caribbean (2006-2007)

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Since the end of 2006, several natural disasters have affected food and cash crop production in Latin America and the Caribbean. Their impact on rural development and food security has been varied. It went from moderate crop losses and localized effects as in the case, for example, of floods in Central America in September 2007 or the cold wave in Peru in June 2007, to significant damage to the overall economy as a consequence of the passage of powerful hurricanes over some Caribbean state islands.

In many cases, natural disasters have affected the poorest and most vulnerable population, without weak livelihood systems and limited alternatives as coping strategies and, frequently, also in very fragile ecosystems. Worth mentioning the devastating impact of hurricane Felix on some indigenous groups of the Northern Atlantic Autonomous Region in Nicaragua, probably the poorest community in Central America, as well as the reduction in food security of small subsistence farmers in Bolivia’s highlands due to heavy losses of potato crop as a consequence of prolonged dry weather conditions during the growing season.

Central America & Caribbean tropical depression (October 2007)

During the second week of October, a tropical depression hit Central America and the Caribbean. In Costa Rica, the North Pacific, Central Pacific and Central Valley regions suffered extensive flooding and mudslides with loss of human lives and serious damage to road and housing infrastructure. On October 20, the government declared a national state of emergency. Regarding agriculture, some localized damages to sugar cane plantations and melon crops are reported. In Nicaragua, about 24 000 people (some 5 000 families) have been affected in the Pacific Western departments of Chinandega, León, Managua, Granada, Matagalpa and Jinotega. Losses of second season maize and bean crops are provisionally estimated by official sources at 4 and 14 per cent of the annual production, respectively. In Haiti, torrential rains caused loss of human lives and damage to housing and infrastructure throughout the country. Some 14 000 families are in need of food and non-food emergency assistance. Minor losses of the second season maize and bean crops, as well as banana plantations are reported especially in the South, West and Artibonite departments. Floods and landslides are also reported in eastern El Salvador, southern Honduras and western Guatemala as well as in the Mexican state of Chiapas, but with limited damage to food and cash crops. In many areas around the Gulf of Fonseca, however, soil conditions are saturated and additional precipitations in the coming weeks may further impact crops.


Hurricane Felix (September 2007)

Hurricane Felix was the second major hurricane of the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season. As a tropical wave, it passed through the southern Windward Islands on September 1 before strengthening to attain hurricane status. On September 4, as Category 5, Felix made landfall just south of the border between Nicaragua and Honduras in the region historically known as the Mosquito Coast.

Nicaragua Powerful hurricane “Felix” severely hit the north-east Atlantic coast of Nicaragua, affecting the Northern Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN) and the departments of Jinotega and Nueva Segovia. It caused floods and landslides, resulting in loss of human life, significant damage to housing and infrastructure, as well as to basic food crops (mainly recently planted second season maize and paddy crops), and fruit trees such as banana, coconut and mango. Continued flooding and saturated soils may prevent maize and paddy crops re-planting activities. More than 32 000 families, mainly poor and vulnerable indigenous groups, have been affected and are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance to recover their livelihoods.

Honduras The passage of Hurricane “Felix” caused some infrastructural damage, especially in northern departments of Colón, Olancho and Cortés, but losses of cereal crops are officially reported to be minimal. However, at the same time, heavy rains have improved soil moisture in southern departments of Choluteca and Valle that were previously affected by poor rainfall distribution in June and July.

Guatemala Despite some localized damage to food crops due to floods caused by the remote passage of Hurricane Felix, maize crop aggregate output (main and second season) is still early forecast at average level of about 1.1 million tonnes.


Hurricane Dean (August 2007)

Hurricane Dean was the first major hurricane of the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season. It entered the Caribbean through the Saint Lucia Channel on August 17, while still a Category 2 hurricane, affecting between St. Lucia, Martinique and Dominica. Then the storm passed to the south of most of the Greater Antilles and its intensity continued to build up to category 4, delivering hurricane force winds to Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Cayman Islands. On August 20, Dean was upgraded to a Category 5 hurricane and made landfall in Quintana Roo's Costa Maya region, some 65 km northeast of the border between Mexico and Belize.

Dominica At request of the Ministry of Agriculture of Dominica, an FAO mission visited the country from 3-12 September to assess the damage caused by the passage of hurricane Dean on 16-17 August and to evaluate short and medium term rehabilitation of the crops, livestock, fishery and forestry sub-sectors. Major losses have been reported in the banana sector, still a major foreign exchange earner, where over 90 percent of the production has been totally destroyed. Other important export crops to be sold in nearby islands such as citrus, avocado, mango, cocoa and hot peppers have also suffered important damage. The main losses are reported in the south, southeast, east and west regions. Reduced availability of food crops coupled with rising prices is expected in the incoming weeks in the main Dominica markets with reduced access to food for the poorest consumers. The livelihood systems of about 3 000 farming families and 3 000 fishing families have been seriously affected and will need several months to recover. The full Mission report is available at ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/010/ah875e/ah875e00.pdf

Jamaica The passage of category 5 hurricane Dean severely affected the agricultural sector. Crop losses between 75 and 30 per cent have been reported to important food and cash crops such as banana, cassava, maize, vegetables, cocoa and sugar cane. Emergency food assistance has been provided by the international community, especially in the most affected parishes of St. Thomas, Clarendon and St. Catherine. Production of cereals is negligible and the country is fully dependent on imports to cover its consumption needs. Import requirements for marketing year 2007/08 (July/June) are estimated at 300 000 tonnes of wheat, 240 000 tonnes of maize and 70 000 tonnes of rice.

Haiti The remote passage of hurricane Dean caused floods and infrastructural damage in southern departments. Despite localized losses of banana and bean crops, it is reported that the abundant hurricane rains have been in general beneficial to the development of second season crops, especially to sorghum crop. In aggregate, the 2007 maize production is tentatively forecast at high level of 220 000 tonnes, some 10 per cent above last five years average, as a consequence of sufficient and well distributed precipitations along the first season. The good production of the 2007 main season food crops has increased food supply in many rural and urban markets, determining a significant reduction in retail prices and a better access to food for the most vulnerable families.

Belize The passage of hurricane Dean caused flooding and infrastructural damage in northern districts of Orange Walk and Corozal. Official sources report that 95 per cent of papaya crop has been lost and about 10 per cent of sugarcane plantations has been damaged. It is reported that damage in the agricultural sector has reduced employment opportunities for about 2 500 seasonal workers, with a negative impact on their purchasing power and consequent access to food.


Paraguay’s fires (September 2007)

Lack of rainfall, high temperatures and strong winds in early September, coupled with the traditional practice of burning pasture and grassland, have been the causes of widespread fires in north-eastern and western regions. About one million hectares of forest, pasture and crops have been destroyed and it is estimated that approximately 200 000 people have been directly affected by this disaster. Loss of biodiversity is also expected to be substantial. On 7 September 2007, the Government declared a state of emergency in the departments of Concepción, San Pedro, Amambay and Presidente Hayes for a period of 60 days. The most affected department was San Pedro, where almost half population (about 4 000 families) lost their production, especially maize and orange, putting at risk their food security.


Peru’s cold wave (May/June 2007) and earthquake (August 2007)

Between the beginning of May and the end of June 2007, several departments have been affected by frosts and record low temperatures. The departments hardest hit are at altitudes of over 2 500 metres, in the central and southern Andean region, with more than 700 000 people affected. Loss of human lives, especially among children, due to respiratory diseases has been reported. Annual crops had only limited damage, having the majority of them already been harvested, but livestock has been adversely affected by the cold weather. The international community is providing food assistance to the population of departments of Ica, and parts of Huancavelica and Ayacucho whose livelihood systems were severely affected by a strong earthquake on August 15.


Bolivia’s floods and drought (from November 2006 to March 2007)

Since November 2006, several adverse climatic events have affected all of Bolivia’s nine departments. Floods and landslides in midlands and lowlands (departments of Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, Beni, Chuquisaca, Tarija and Pando) as well as dry weather conditions, hail storms and frost in highlands (departments of Oruro, Chuquisaca, Potosí and La Paz) have caused losses of human lives and damage to infrastructure, housing and agriculture.

Having declared a state of emergency in January, the Government of Bolivia requested an FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission (CFSAM) to assess the country’s production of staple crops (essentially cereals and tubers) for the 2006/07 cropping season and estimate import requirements for the marketing year 2007/08 (July/June).

The main preliminary results of the Mission are the following:
    • At national level, the aggregate productions of cereals and tubers are forecast to decline some 11 percent from last year’s average levels to about 1.8 million tonnes and 1.1 million tonnes respectively. The bulk of the reductions is expected in rice, barley and potato crops. Soya, the most important export crop, is anticipated some 13 percent lower than in 2006.

    • In eastern and northern lowland departments of Santa Cruz, Beni and Pando, floods have caused complete loss of soybean, paddy and maize crops in some areas and reduced yield potential of surviving crops. In addition, the important livestock sector has also been severely affected, with thousands of animals reported dead, loss of pasture land and increasing health problems.

    • In the highlands, dry weather conditions coupled with hailstorms and frosts have damaged tuber and quinoa production in several areas. Shortage of pasture for camelids, mainly llamas and alpacas, is foreseen starting from next August/September as a consequence of the limited precipitation received at the beginning of the year.

    • Throughout the country, grain and tuber prices are showing a rising trend and are well above their levels of a year earlier. This reflects the expectation of reduced supplies, as well as ongoing speculation by traders and assemblers that are acquiring large amounts of products (mainly cereals and oilseeds) to be then gradually released according to market conditions.

    • The country, normally self-sufficient in rice, is forecast to import about 50 000 tonnes in marketing year 2007/08 (July/June). The deficit of potatoes is estimated at 160 000 tonnes, or some 21 percent of last year’s production, and is expected to be fulfilled partly with cross-border imports from Peru and Argentina, and partly with wheat substitution. Imports of wheat, that in normal years cover most of the consumption requirements, are also anticipated to increase in 2007/08.

    • The population worst affected by the adverse weather conditions of this season are the small subsistence farmers of the highlands departments of La Paz and Oruro as well as the small herders in the department of Beni. Large numbers of this population will require emergency food and agricultural rehabilitation assistance in the coming months.
The full CFSAM report is available at ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/010/ah867s/ah867s00.pdf


Other events

Colombia

Heavy precipitations in June as well as in August caused floods in Northern provinces of Cordoba, Bolivar, Sucre and Antioquia, displacing more than 100 000 people, resulting in localized losses of food and cash crops.

Mexico

Heavy and constant rains in August have caused the rivers to overflow resulting in floods in coastal areas of northern departments of Tamaulipas and Veracruz, with localized losses of coffee, sugar cane and citrus crops. However, in all major cereal producing areas, moderate to heavy precipitations have maintained favourable moisture levels. Early official forecasts point to a record coarse grain production of above 30 million tonnes, an increase of 7.4 percent from the previous year’s good level, mainly as a consequence of an expansion in the areas planted.

Uruguay

In mid May 2007, torrential precipitations, unusual in this period of the year, caused serious flooding especially in departments of Durazno, Soriano and Treinta y Tres. Official source reported that losses were limited to reduction of quality of grains such as rice, maize, sorghum and soybean, while quantity has not been affected.