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FAO/GIEWS Special Alert No. 312: Asia (22 September 2000)

Originally published
(Circulated only for countries where foodcrops or supply situation conditions give rise to concern)
A combination of heavy monsoon rains, tropical storms, typhoons and floods have seriously affected a number of countries in Asia including China, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Cambodia, Thailand, Viet Nam and Laos. In addition to enormous economic damage, hundreds of people have been killed and hundreds of thousands have had to be evacuated. As monsoon rains are due to continue for some time, in parts, there are concerns that the situation could worsen considerably. Serious food shortages are reported from a number of areas, whilst the risk of disease is increasing fast. Humanitarian relief operations are underway but are being impeded by lack of access to many areas due to high flood waters.

In India, following serious drought earlier in the year which affected a number of western and southern states, severe floods during the monsoon season have devastated many parts of the country, killing several hundred people, displacing thousands and destroying crops. As a result of the disruption to agriculture, marketing and communications, the food supply situation in some states is extremely tight. The latest floods occurred in the country's most populous state, Utter Pradesh, where weeks of heavy rains caused floods displacing thousands of people. Although water levels in the major rivers and tributaries have begun receding, an estimated 40 000 people remain homeless. The floods are estimated to have killed 306 people and damaged or destroyed nearly 200 000 hectares of crops. In mid-September, there were also renewed floods in parts of West Bengal which had also been affected earlier in the monsoon season. Reports indicate that the worst affected districts were Birbhum, Burdwan, Murshidabad and Malda, whilst major rivers and tributaries are flowing well above danger levels. Several dams and barrages in the state are also above danger levels and are having to release large volumes of water. Around 600 000 people have been evacuated to safer locations. Elsewhere, at the end of August, in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh thousands of people had to be evacuated due to rising river levels following the heaviest rainfall in decades. An estimated 142 people were killed by the floods, whilst losses in property and crops were put at US$168 million. Monsoon floods earlier in the season, also killed several hundred people and destroyed crops in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh and the north eastern states of Bihar, West Bengal and Assam. The state of Assam was the worst affected, where some 3 000 villages were submerged, and an estimated 2.5 million people made homeless. Except for Himachal Pradesh, the remaining flood-affected states are all important rice producers, accounting for some 52 percent of total kharif or monsoon rice production. Due to flood damage and erratic rainfall in parts, overall rice prospects remain uncertain. Although the outlook in major rice surplus states of Punjab, Haryana and most parts of Uttar Pradesh remains favourable, recent rainfall in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and Orissa, where the rice crop is mostly rainfed, has been erratic. In addition, the floods in Andhra Pradesh have reduced prospects of a bumper monsoon crop there. As result, aggregate 2000/01 rice production may be affected and be lower than the 90 million tonnes forecast earlier. Milled rice production in 1999/2000 was a record 88.25 million tonnes, of which 75.6 million tonnes (86 percent) was from the main monsoon kharif crop and 12.6 million tonnes from the rabi crop.

Elsewhere on the subcontinent, in Bangladesh, in the first dekad of September, some 60 000 people were made homeless and several were killed following floods on Sandwip Island, situated 60 miles off the mainland. The floods were caused by unusually high tidal waves in the Bay of Bengal. Problems of drinking water and food supplies are reported. Heavy monsoon rains, floods and landslides also killed a number of people and displaced several thousand in the worst affected areas in central parts of Nepal. Crops, mainly rice, infrastructure and communication systems were also damaged, with economic cost currently put at around US$6 million. There are also concerns regarding the food security situation in remote parts of the country, particularly Rukum District, where supplies are declining and access remains difficult for food distribution.

In China, in the first week of September, Typhoon Maria killed 29 people and caused estimated damages of US$100 million in Guangdong and Hunan provinces and damaged or destroyed an estimated 40 000 hectares of crops. These two provinces are important rice producers and together normally produce some 21 percent of national rice production. The weather situation in the second dekad of September, however, was generally favourable across most of the country, with warm dry weather aiding maturation and harvesting of summer crops, and planting of early winter crops. Harvesting of early rice, first of the three rice crops grown, is complete with production estimated at 37.5 million tonnes of paddy; some 8 percent below last year and the lowest level since the 1980s. In addition, official reports indicate that the intermediate rice crop, affected by drought in parts, will also register a decline compared to last year, while late rice has been affected by typhoon and storm activity, particularly in Fujian, Zhejiang and Guangdong provinces. Overall paddy production in 2000/01, therefore, is currently forecast at around 186 million tonnes, some 12 million tonnes below 1999/2000. The flood damage comes on top of serious drought earlier which affected summer grain production, particularly in important producing areas in the north. The estimate for 2000 wheat production has been revised down further to 101 million tonnes, compared to 103 million tonnes earlier and 111 million tonnes in June. At this level, production would be some 10 percent lower than average for the last five years and almost 13 million tonnes or 11 percent lower than 1999. In addition, due to adverse dry conditions and to some extent falling acreage, maize production is expected to fall to its lowest level in 6 years to around 103 million tonnes, some 15 percent below average and 25 million tonnes below last year. Lower production will likely result in higher domestic market prices, increased demand for imports and reduced exports. Official reports indicate that this year's drought has been the worst in 20 years, damaging around 31 million hectares of summer and autumn crops.

Along the Mekong River basin, one of the most important rice producing areas in South East Asia, aid agencies report that as many as 4 million people have been affected. In Cambodia, humanitarian and food supply concerns continue to mount with the country facing the highest flood levels in 70 years. Already over 100 people have reportedly been killed by the floods, with more casualties expected as the rains continue. Reports indicate that in the last few days, some 70 000 people along the Mekong river were under threat as flood waters continue to rise, destroying crops and homes. Seventeen of the country's 23 provinces have been affected by floods and more than 250 000 hectares of rice damaged or destroyed. The economic damage to crops alone is officially estimated at around US$10 million. In recent days, with the floods showing no signs of receding there were fears that the capital, Phnom Penh, may also be flooded. Serious food shortages and escalating food prices are reported in a number of areas. The Government has declared a state of emergency in several provinces and requested international humanitarian assistance for 600 000 of the worst affected people. The country is normally prone to flooding during the rainy season between August and September, though this year flooding started in early July and has been more extensive than normal. In the last serious floods in 1996, 169 people were killed. The International Federation of the Red Cross has issued an appeal for US $1.6 million to assist flood victims in the country.

The floods will delay ongoing land preparation, transplanting and planting of main wet season rice. Although the target for 2000/01 is 4.2 million tonnes, this now remains uncertain. In contrast to widespread flood damage in the river delta, drought in parts such Kampong Spoe province destroyed rice nurseries, further damaging overall prospects. Total 1999/2000 paddy production was estimated at a record 4 million tonnes, some 500 000 tonnes or 14 percent above the previous year. Around 83 percent of paddy production is from the wet season crop and the remainder from flood recession and dry season production. Rice also accounts for some 84 percent of annual food crop production and is planted on around 90 percent of cropped area, mainly in the Central Mekong Basin and Delta and the Tonle Sap Plain.

Similarly in neighbouring Viet Nam, the worst flooding in 40 years in the Mekong Delta has resulted in 43 deaths and large scale displacement of people, whilst many homes have been destroyed and some areas are facing serious food shortages. In addition some 100 000 hectares of rice have been damaged or destroyed, whilst the economic cost so far is put at US$26 million. To date, flood water levels in the Mekong River system are all above Alarm Level III, which signifies highly dangerous flood conditions, similar to levels reached during exceptionally disastrous floods in 1961, 1966, 1978 and 1996. The UNDP flood warning centre forecasts that in the next three to five days, upstream flood water levels on the Tien and Hau Rivers will likely reach peak flood levels.

The worst affected areas are Long An, Dong Thap and An Giang which border Cambodia. The estimated death toll so far in these areas is 25, whilst up to 400 000 people have had to be evacuated.

Earlier in the first dekad of September, tropical storms also resulted in crop damage in central parts, whilst heavy rain along coastal areas of the Red River Delta, delayed harvesting of "10th" month rice. In northern parts of the country 10th month rice is normally planted in June/July for harvest from the middle of September, whilst in the south, the growing period is longer, with harvesting commencing from late October onwards. Notwithstanding the full extent of any flood damage, current forecasts point to a 10th month paddy crop of around 8.3 million tonnes, slightly down on last year. Paddy production in 1999/2000 was 31.7 million tonnes, of which almost half came from the main winter/spring crop, planted from January to March, for harvest in April to July depending on location.

To supplement Government relief efforts, the International Federation of the Red Cross, has appealed for US$1.5 million to assist 125 000 worst affected people in the Mekong Delta.

Elsewhere, flood waters in north and north-eastern Thailand, began receding in the last few days as rains eased, but left a number of people dead, thousands displaced and extensive damage to property in their aftermath. Official estimates indicate that some 836 of around 2 000 sub-districts in the country were affected, whilst the economic damage was put at about US$30 million. Around 645 000 hectares of crops were damaged or destroyed in over 24 provinces. Flood damage to rice in lower areas may, however, be offset by the beneficial effects of additional rain on higher ground.

In view of recent events, overall rice prospects in 2000/01 remain uncertain. Latest official projections before the floods forecast the main rice crop at around 19.04 million tonnes. In addition, the second rice crop, planted in January to March for harvest in May/June, normally produces around 4.3 million tonnes. The country is the largest rice exporter in the world and has a target to export some 6 million tonnes in 2000.

Latest estimates indicate that in Laos some 45 000 hectares of paddy were also damaged by floods in central and southern parts.

This report is prepared on the responsibility of the FAO Secretariat with information from official and unofficial sources. Since conditions may change rapidly, please contact Mr. Abdur Rashid, Chief, ESCG, FAO, (Fax: 0039-06-5705-4495, E-Mail (INTERNET): GIEWS1@FAO.ORG) for further information if required.