From late June onwards, persistent rains, attributed to the La Niña phenomenon, and consequent flooding have taken a heavy toll on human life and property in several parts of Asia. To date, nearly 3000 flood-related deaths have been reported. Severe damage has also been inflicted on the infrastructure (roads, bridges, rail links), seriously disrupting the movement of commodities. China and Bangladesh have been hardest hit, but there has also been loss of life in the Republic of Korea, India and Nepal. In the region as a whole more than 250 million people have been affected by the floods, many left without shelter and possessions.
Large areas of cropped land have been submerged in China, Bangladesh and the Republic of Korea. Although it is too early to estimate the impact of the floods on regional crop production, there are fears of a decline in world paddy output, 90 percent of which comes from Asia. This could fuel further increases in world rice prices, already unseasonably high. Indonesia, once self-sufficient in rice, is now the world's largest importer, and faces the severe prospect of reduced production due to earlier drought, high world prices and an unprecedented financial crisis.
The Asia region accounts for approximately 45 percent of the global cereal output and for over 90 percent of the world paddy crop, produced mainly during the south-west monsoon season. The monsoon is vital to regional food crop production, especially in Bangladesh, China, Cambodia, India, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. The 1998 south-west monsoon arrived early or on schedule in most countries of the region but its performance has been erratic resulting in excessive rains and flooding in several countries and drought conditions in others.
The overall food supply situation in the region is satisfactory so far, but large sections of the population are likely to face increased food supply difficulties in the coming months. The situation needs to be monitored closely.
Heavy monsoon rains that started in the second dekad of July caused extensive flooding in 37 of the 64 districts across the country. Most rivers rose above the danger levels. In mid-August, most of the country continued to receive above normal rains, worsening conditions in places already reeling from a month of flooding.
The floods resulted in loss of life and extensive damage to property. Recent reports put the death toll at more than 370 people. The floods, reckoned to be the worst since 1988, have caused a significant increase in the incidence of water-borne diseases. Some 25 million people are reported to have been affected by the floods, with many thousands left homeless. Over 6 600 head of cattle were also reported to have been killed.
Although the 'Aus' season crops were being harvested before the flooding started, late planted crops have been destroyed and the anticipated 'Aus' rice output of 1.9 million tonnes is now revised down to 1.6 million tonnes. The planting of the main 'Aman' rice was also delayed in most areas as nurseries were damaged and rice transplanting seriously hampered. Recent reports indicate that a total of 760 000 hectares of farmland have been affected with nearly 425 000 hectares of rice and other crops destroyed. The damage to farm produce is provisionally estimated at around US$ 150 million.
Government held cereal stocks, officially estimated at about 1 million tonnes, are expected to meet the immediate food relief needs, but international assistance is needed for their replenishment. An appeal for 400 000 tonnes of food aid has already been made by the Government, and a foodgrain import requirement of over 1 million tonnes is anticipated. A full-scale rescue and relief operation has been launched by the government by mobilising the army for emergency rescue operations and the distribution of rice and wheat to flood victims.
External assistance for emergency rehabilitation of the agriculture sector is also urgently needed.
Heavy rains since mid-June have caused extensive flooding in central, south-eastern and north-eastern parts of the country. The water level of the Yangtze River surpassed the record height of 1954.
Since mid-June, the floods have killed at least 2 000 people, mostly in the heavily populated areas of central and southern China. More than 14 million people have had to be resettled or transferred to higher ground, with the destruction or damage of their houses. Devastating floods have also spread to the north-east forcing closures of oil wells and prompting thousands of people to evacuate. About 240 million people have been directly affected. The extent of the damage, so far estimated in the region of US$5 billion, could possibly reach US$24 billion. More rains are still likely and may cause more flooding, especially in the low-lying plains of central China.
The damage to crops has been extensive with about 22 million hectares affected and 4.8 million hectares totally destroyed. The early rice harvest and plantings of the late rice were affected. The bulk of the damage occurred in the major rice producing regions along the Yangtze River, with Hubei, Hunan, Anhui, Jiangxi and Sichuan provinces the hardest hit. These provinces normally account for about half of the annual rice production and about a quarter of total annual cereal output.
The summer grain harvest, which accounts for 20 to 25 percent of annual total grain output, is expected to fall by more than the official estimates of 11 percent from last year. Whether this will have a significant impact on annual production remains uncertain. Official sources are expecting increased area under the autumn crops to compensate for the fall in summer production. The yields of subsequent crops could also benefit from abundant residual soil moisture due to floods.
The Government has mobilised more than one million soldiers to support the implementation of an emergency relief programme and provided more than US$ 229 million worth of relief funds to the flood-affected areas. Sufficient stocks of grains are available for immediate food relief, reflecting consecutive years of bumper harvests. However, shortages of grain, vegetables and other commodities are reported in the flooded areas prompting the Government to call for price stabilisation measures.
This year's grain production target was officially put at 492.5 million tonnes, about 7 percent higher than the average for the previous five years. Should there be inadequate recovery in the output of autumn crops, the final production could fall significantly short of the target.
Unseasonably heavy rains in main cereal producing areas following prolonged drought, boosted irrigation supplies for second-season rice and maize crops. However, floods caused by excessive rains at the end of July affected east Kalimantan resulting in loss of life and property. Floods are also reported in Samarinda, Aceh and Sumatra.
Forecasts of more heavy rains and tidal waves associated with the La Niña weather phenomenon in most parts of the country are worrying, and may aggravate the already precarious food supply situation which was precipitated by last year's prolonged drought and the financial and economic crisis. An FAO/WFP Mission is planned in mid-September to assess the outcome of the secondary season crops and review the overall food supply situation in the country.
Indonesia's capacity for commercial imports is seriously constrained due to the unprecedented financial crisis that the country is facing since last year. International response to the food emergency has been generous with about 1.0 million tonnes of rice and 500 000 tonnes of wheat pledged so far in the form of loans and grants. However, further international assistance is required.
In June and July the country had normal to slightly above normal rainfall which benefited the planting and development of summer crops. However in early August, the country experienced the heaviest rainfall in more than 80 years damaging infrastructure and housing. Worst hit were the rice producing northern regions of the country. The full extent of the damage to crops is not yet known.
This year the country has already increased the area set-aside by 176 000 hectares to 963 000 hectares, under the Area Land Diversion Programme designed to cut rice production and reduce large stocks. Recent reports indicate that this year's paddy output is expected to be about 11 percent below last year's reduced output.
KOREA, REPUBLIC OF
Heavy rains that started at the end of July have caused serious flooding killing at least 269 people. More than 150 000 people have vacated their homes and damage to property is estimated at about US$689 million. Some 47 000 hectares, mostly rice fields in northern parts of the country, were flooded and about 4 440 hectares of vegetable-producing farmland in southern parts of the country were destroyed.
The target for paddy production this year, set at 6.7 million tonnes (11 percent lower than last year), is unlikely to be achieved. Cereal imports in 1997/98 are estimated at 11.6 million tonnes compared to 13.1 million tonnes in 1996/97.
Heavy monsoon rains since mid-June are reported to have caused serious flooding in most parts of the country killing at least 113 people and displacing more than 7 000 households in 62 districts. Some 1 160 hectares of crops are reported to have been destroyed and more than 300 cattle killed.
Output of paddy in 1998/99 is officially projected to be similar to last year's harvest of 3.64 million tonnes.
Elsewhere in Asia, flood damage is reported in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and India. In DPR Korea, floods are reported to have damaged paddy and maize fields in Kaesong Province in the southern parts of the country. More recent reports also indicate that heavy rains, hailstorms and strong winds have damaged crops and infrastructure in some western and central provinces. The extent of the damage is not yet known.
In India, landslides triggered by heavy rains killed more than 180 people. Flash floods in the northern and eastern parts of the country have also damaged crops on nearly 2 million hectares. Although the damage to the crops is still marginal thus far, the situation could deteriorate if the intensity of rain does not ease off.
In contrast to the heavy rains and floods mentioned above, drought conditions are reported in several parts of the region, including Viet Nam, Thailand and Cambodia.
In Papua New Guinea in the Pacific Rim, a tidal wave about 10 metres high, triggered by an earthquake off the neighbouring Solomon Islands, recently hit part of the northwest coast. The waves hit at a time when the country was still reeling from a prolonged drought that severely affected about 1.2 million people. The whole area near Scission lagoon comprising five villages was destroyed, killing more than 2 100 people, mainly children.
The country has received normal to above-normal rains during the growing season, and prospects for crops appear to be good. However, the food situation is likely to be tight for vulnerable groups and those who lacked basic agricultural inputs at the planting time.
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, (Telex 610181 FAO I; Fax: 0039-06-5705-4495, E-Mail (INTERNET): GIEWS1@FAO.ORG) for further information if required.
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