WFP widens Mekong flood emergency aid to Laos
WFP officials said the emergency assistance would help the most affected people in Laos survive for the next two to three months. Meanwhile, a close assessment will be undertaken to determine the long-term food needs for a country in which many households face chronic food deficits even under normal conditions.
"A large percentage of Laotians suffer food shortages every year, and the malnutrition levels are among the highest in Asia," said Laos Country Director Malcolm Duthie. "These people are not in a position to absorb the kind of shock the floods have created."
Duthie said that the floods destroyed rice fields in 29 districts, with five districts losing well over 50 percent. "These areas produce rice for the entire country," he noted.
Duthie said that a recent two-day assessment mission by government and WFP officers "showed that the most productive agricultural areas are the ones that lost the highest percentage of the rice crop."
He also pointed out that the damaged rice fields would have been part of the country's main rain-fed crop of the year, due to be harvested in late October and November. Subsistence farmers grow most of the Laos rice crop and rely entirely on this rain-fed harvest to feed their families for the rest of the year.
Those farmers with irrigation facilities have a chance of recovery if they obtain seeds to replant. But those without such facilities will find it impossible to grow a new crop even if they obtain the seeds.
"They're going to be in trouble in about two months' time if they don't get the help they will need," said Duthie. He added that while Laos did not suffer the same extent of physical flood damage as other countries on the Mekong, food insecurity could become a real danger for many of the people.
Meanwhile, in Cambodia, the country worst hit by the flooding, the extent of the damage is now being revealed as the waters recede - and along with it the challenges faced by WFP in its emergency operation.
Under current plans, once the initial phase of the emergency is over, under which WFP expects to feed 500,000 people without any other recourse to food, WFP plans to give assistance to 250,000 Cambodians. This will enable them to carry out the major repair work required by their homes and communities.
"Half of Cambodia's 23 provinces are in a state of emergency," said Cambodia Country Director Monika Midel. "The Cambodia people desperately need to start rebuilding, and to do that they need help from WFP and other humanitarian agencies."
Meanwhile, in Vietnam, where WFP is giving emergency assistance to 40,000 people affected by the flood, Country Director Julian Lefevre warned that the numbers of victims are growing every day as the floods move downriver. Government and Vietnamese Red Cross officials are continuing to evacuate people stranded by the high waters.
WFP is the United Nations' front-line agency in the fight against global hunger. In 1999, WFP fed more than 89 million people in 82 countries including most of the world's refugees and internally displaced people.
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