Tsunami affected countries face severe local food security problems

Tsunami affected countries face severe local food security problems


Local communities severely hit by the tsunami disaster will face severe food security problems in the short and long term because parents and relatives have been lost, livelihood assets have been destroyed, and sources of income no longer exist, FAO said today. Harvest prospects have deteriorated in agricultural areas worst hit by the tsunami and heavy rains. 

FAO Director-General Dr Jacques Diouf met last Friday with ambassadors from affected countries and donors to evaluate the response to the emergency rehabilitation of fisheries and agriculture in affected countries. Donors such as Belgium, the European Commission, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, amongst others, have already supported or expressed interest in FAO's initial appeal for $26 million. It is estimated that two million people in 12 different countries in the disaster region are in need of food assistance, FAO said.

However, in spite of local losses, overall food availability in the region affected should be adequate to cover food needs. "Since relatively large rice supplies are available in the region, it is recommended that local purchases be made whenever possible in order to meet food aid requirements in the different affected countries, so as to avoid domestic food markets disturbances," said Henri Josserand, Chief of the Global Information and Early Warning Service. 

However, given the damage to infrastructure, in particular roads, and the lack of suitable transportation means, logistical difficulties will hamper the distribution of food to the affected population. Fisheries and agriculture in coastal areas have been severely hit by the tsunami waves.

"Relief efforts must ensure that local farmers and fisher folk hit by the tsunamis receive all the assistance needed to cover their food needs and to restart farming and fishing as soon as possible. With international assistance, agriculture and fisheries should have the potential to recover from this catastrophe," FAO said. 

Impact on food security 

In Indonesia all infrastructure has been destroyed in the worst-affected areas, leaving people without water, food or shelter. The provinces most affected by the tsunami, Aceh and Northern Sumatra on Sumatra Island, are among the most vulnerable areas in the country, with one-third of the population living below the poverty line. The 2005 main season paddy and maize crops, to be harvested from March on, were already on the ground when the tsunami struck Sumatra. The island is the second in Indonesia in terms of rice production.

Together, the two worst affected provinces account for about 10 percent of the aggregate national rice output in a normal year. There is currently no assessment of the impact of the tsunami on cereal production at local and national levels. Following last year's bumper crop there are adequate stocks to cover the food needs of the affected population. 

In Sri Lanka, the hardest-hit eastern and southern coastal districts are among the largest paddy growing areas. Planting of the 2005 main paddy season, accounting for some 60 percent of the total rice production, had just been completed when the tsunami arrived. In eastern parts, persistent heavy rains from mid-December and floods have also adversely affected the emerging paddy crop.

Prospects for the harvest, scheduled to start in March, have deteriorated. The country's already tight food supply situation could worsen further in 2005/06. 

Thailand is the world's largest rice exporter. With the harvest of the 2005 main rice crop just about to be completed, current rice supplies should be sufficient to cover the immediate food needs in the affected areas of both Thailand and neighboring countries. In the Southern region, including the affected provinces, harvesting of the 2004 main season paddy crop was underway when the tsunami hit coastal areas.

An assessment of the damage to agriculture is not yet available but local crop losses are likely. Since the whole Southern region accounts for only four percent of the country's annual paddy crop, the damage is not expected to seriously affect production prospects at the national level. 

In India, some 90 percent of the country's annual paddy crop is grown from May to November. The tsunami did not affect the overall 2005 production prospects. Rice surplus is expected to be sufficient to cover the food aid needs in the country's worst-affected areas.

In the Maldives, agriculture plays a minor role in the overall economy, due to the limited availability of arable land and shortages of domestic labor. The country's cereal consumption requirements, averaging some 40 000 tonnes per year, are normally covered by commercial imports. However, the damage to housing and infrastructure in the tourism and fishing sectors will have a serious impact on the economy. 

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