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UN assesses tsunami food shortages

January 12, 2005 By Helen Pearson This article courtesy of Nature News.

Damage to fisheries and fields could affect millions.

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Around 2 million people in 12 countries could face food shortages as a result of last month's tsunami, according to an initial assessment by the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Many people are unable to buy food because they have lost their income and livelihoods. And local food production took a hit when boats and fisheries were destroyed and agricultural land flooded.

Because emergency food packages are just a temporary solution, the FAO is recommending that international aid be directed, as soon as possible, towards longer term goals.

Such assistance might involve replacing fishing equipment and boats, draining blocked irrigation systems and fields, and supplying seed. The FAO launched an appeal earlier this month for US$26 million to finance these types of project, but the rehabilitation "will take years", says Henri Josserand, who heads the FAO section that predicts impending food crises.

Twin reports

In one of two reports published early this week, the organization estimates damage to the fishing industries in the Indian Ocean1. It notes that Aceh province in northern Sumatra, for example, lost around 70% of its canoe-based fishing fleet as well as its ponds and hatcheries for crabs, shrimp and fish.

Loss of rice crops, which are the staple food for all countries in the region, will also have an impact, according to the second report2. In Indonesia and Sri Lanka, for example, the main paddy crop had been planted just before the tsunami struck.

On a positive note, the report says that there is enough surplus food in the region, from affected or neighbouring countries, to cover immediate needs. The main problem will be lack of good transportation to distribute the food.

Josserand says that the FAO is starting a more comprehensive survey of the types of aid needed to secure food supplies, such as provision of transportation or cold storage, in coordination with the United Nations and other aid agencies. "It's a huge undertaking," he says.

References

  1. Impacts of the Tsunami on Fisheries, Aquaculture and Coastal Livelihoods report
  2. Impact of the Tsunami Disaster on Food Availability and Food security in the Affected Countries report

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