India + 12 more

FAO/GIEWS Special Alert No. 311: Asia (17 August 2000)

Originally published
(Circulated only for countries where foodcrops or supply situation conditions give rise to concern)
In several Asian countries, drought followed by extensive floods have killed a number of people, displaced thousands, destroyed or damaged crops and increased the likelihood of serious food shortages in parts.

In India, following serious drought earlier in the year which affected a number of western and southern states, recent floods in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh killed at least 150 people and left many homeless or unaccounted for. The floods, which followed continuous heavy rain, also destroyed large crop areas and a number of irrigation structures. Heavy rains and flash floods have also caused havoc in the north eastern states of Bihar, West Bengal and Assam, where thousands of people have been displaced and a number killed. The state of Assam was the worst affected, where some 3 000 villages were submerged, and an estimated 2.5 million people made homeless. Large areas still remain submerged making relief operations difficult. In Bihar, a thousand villages and some 1.6 million people were affected, whilst in West Bengal, 200 000 people were displaced. In addition to food shortages and malnutrition, concerns are also growing of an outbreak of diseases such as malaria and diarrhoea. Where possible the Government is providing food and clean water but access remains difficult in parts. Although in some areas flood waters have begun receding, the likelihood of more rain and floods remains.

In addition to the human misery brought by the floods, kharif (summer) crops, particularly rice, may also have been extensively damaged. The three north eastern states are important rice producers, accounting for roughly a third of total area planted. In 1996/97, production from these states was 23 million tonnes or around 28 percent of national output. Of the three states, West Bengal is comparatively the most important for rice, accounting for around 12 to 13 million tonnes or 15 percent of national production. Other kharif crops of importance include maize, mostly in Bihar, rape seed and mustard. The states are also highly populated, accounting for some 21 percent of the national population in 1999. West Bengal is the most densely populated with around 900 people/sq km, followed by Bihar (600/sq km) and Assam (300 /sq km). The kharif season in India coincides with the monsoon rains, extending from June to September. The country has had satisfactory to favourable monsoon rains for the past 12 consecutive years. This year, the rains have also been generally favourable, with 26 of the 35 sub-divisions monitored for rainfall receiving normal to above-normal rainfall by mid-July, compared to 23 sub-divisions last year, which produced a record rice crop of 88.25 million tonnes.

Across the border in Bangladesh, several thousands people in central parts have been affected by monsoon floods which have left six people dead in the past few days. Although flood waters have receded in the northern areas, the central and southern districts remain badly affected. The worst affected districts were Manikganj, Munshiganj, Rajbari, Faridpur, Sirajganj and Narayanganj. The Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre predicted that conditions in low-lying areas around the capital Dhaka are likely to worsen due to high water levels in rivers, as most are flowing above danger levels.

Floods also brought large-scale destruction to parts of Bhutan, where some 200 people were killed by landslides in the central highland region, whilst similar floods and landslides in Nepal killed 105 people and displaced several hundred families. Elsewhere, Cambodia has received more than twice the normal rainfall, resulting in extensive localised flooding in the Mekong River delta, as the river broke its banks. Nine provinces and the municipality of Phnom Penh have been affected by the flooding, which has claimed 13 lives and affected crops on 106 000 hectares. There are concerns that as the monsoon season progresses, more rainfall will increase the likelihood of more flooding, as levels of water in rivers are already high.

In contrast, other parts of the Asia region continue to suffer from the effects of recent or ongoing drought. In China, a severe drought has destroyed crops and led to large-scale water shortages in the north, where water in rivers and reservoirs has been largely depleted since June. More than 100 cities have already implemented strict water rationing measures to counter shortages. The situation is reported to be the worst in decades. The provinces affected include Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning, Tianjin city, Shandong, Shanxi and Shaanxi. As a result of the drought, the summer cereal harvest is expected to fall by 11 million tonnes, or 9.3 percent compared to 1999, and is estimated at around 107.5 million tonnes. Aggregate wheat production is now put at 103 million tonnes, some 8 million tonnes lower than that forecast earlier in June. In addition, due to lower planted area the output of early rice, grown from March to July, is expected to decline by some 8 percent from last year to around 37.5 million tonnes. Rice is mainly planted in the south, whilst wheat and coarse grains are mainly produced in the north/north east.

In The Islamic Republic of Iran, the worst drought in decades has severely affected agriculture and livestock, whilst water shortages threaten to displace up to 60 percent of the rural population. Two consecutive years of drought have affected 18 of the country's 28 provinces and more than half the population of 67 million. In addition, there are fears that the serious drought in neighbouring Afghanistan may increase the number of drought migrants.

A recent UN inter-agency mission found that the disaster is placing enormous strain on water sources for livestock and agriculture in many affected provinces, leading to severe hardship amongst vulnerable people, particularly in rural areas, who have no alternative source of income and have not recovered from heavy losses incurred last year. As the drought continues, increasing numbers of people will become almost entirely dependent on mobile and stationary water tankers. The disaster has stretched government resources to the limit, whilst the situation is likely to worsen in the coming months, as summer temperatures continue to rise and no rain is expected until November. The Government has appealed for international assistance, particularly in the water and livestock sectors.

The loss in this year's wheat production is estimated at 2.8 million tonnes, from target, whilst barely output has declined by 280 000 tonnes. Wheat output is currently estimated at around 9.25 million tonnes some 6.5 percent above last year's drought-reduced crop. To meet immediate feed requirements, the country will need to import additional barley, whilst wheat imports are expected to remain high at around 6 million tonnes.

Livestock losses, due to malnutrition and disease, are estimated at 800 000 animals and are expected to rise further as a result of continued shortages of feed and water. In view of losses in the breeding herd and shortage of feed, it is expected that the situation in the livestock sector will worsen in early 2001, even if normal rains are received in November. Overall, it is estimated that some 200 000 nomadic herders have lost and are continuing to lose their only source of livelihood. Unless immediate measures are taken to arrest this loss, this segment of the population is likely to migrate in seach of livelihoods.

Neighbouring Afghanistan is also reeling under the effects of two consecutive years of severe drought, compounded by continuing economic difficulties due to insecurity. Consequently, the country faces an acute food crisis in 2000/2001. The ravages of protracted civil strife over several years and a number of natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods and droughts in recent years have left millions of people with little access to food. Purchasing power has been seriously eroded by lack of employment opportunities, a decline in cash crop production and high rates of mortality of livestock, estimated to be as high as 80 percent in some areas. The current drought is reckoned to be the worst in three decades. Total cereal production in 2000, estimated at 1.82 million tonnes, is about 44 percent below the drought reduced crop of 1999.

As a result, the cereal import requirement in the 2000/01 marketing year (July/June) is estimated at a record 2.3 million tonnes, more than double last year's requirement of 1.1 million tonnes. An estimate of commercial cereal imports of about 1 million tonnes leaves a large gap of 1.3 million tonnes. WFP emergency food aid, including in pipeline, amounts to 225 000 tonnes, leaving an uncovered gap of over one million tonnes. In mid-July 2000 FAO and WFP jointly approved an Emergency Operation for food assistance for 1.6 million drought affected people, worth US$55.4 million for a period of 12 months. In addition, FAO has appealed for US$5.5 million to procure wheat seed for the next cropping season starting in October, for 400 000 farmers.

As part of this wider regional phenomenon, early prospects for food grain production in DPR Korea are also unpromising following erratic and below average rainfall in the run-up to the 2000 cropping season. In addition, lower precipitation this year, coupled with below normal rainfall in 1999, especially during the main rainy season from June to August, reduced water availability for replenishment of irrigation reservoirs, which is essential for crops, particularly at the early stages of growth before the onset of the main rainy season. Irrigation reserves were additionally affected this year by a severe shortage of electricity and persistent machinery breakdowns, which meant that water from perennial rivers could not be pumped into reservoirs. Geographical and climatic limitations mean that DPR Korea depends almost entirely on the its main growing season from May to October for domestic food supplies. These are extremely important as the country's capacity to import food and essential agricultural inputs remains heavily constrained by lack of foreign exchange. Notwithstanding large international food assistance to the country in recent years, which has tremendously benefited targeted beneficiaries, the food outlook for 2000/2001 remains precarious.

In Pakistan, despite some relief from rainfall in recent weeks, the food situation remains unfavourable in Baluchistan province which was earlier ravaged by a severe drought. The food supply situation also remains extremely tight for thousands of nomadic families in Mongolia, which experienced its worst winter weather in 30 years earlier this year, killing over 1.5 million livestock and destroying the livelihood of a large segment of the population.

Agricultural production in some of the CIS countries in Asia has also been seriously affected by unusually hot and dry conditions in spring and summer, particularly in southern and western parts. The countries affected include Armenia, Georgia and Tajikistan, where drought has exacerbated chronic economic problems, including persistent shortages of improved seed, working capital for yield enhancing inputs and the decline in irrigation systems. Consequently, the 2000 cereal harvest in these countries is forecast to fall sharply, as a result of which all three have requested international assistance. In Tajikistan the 2000 cereal harvest has roughly halved to only 236 000 tonnes, compared to 448 000 tonnes in 1999, as a result of which food aid needs have risen sharply. The situation in Georgia is currently being assessed by an FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission, while a similar mission is planned for Armenia in late August.

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.