Wednesday, January 28, 2009

UN:Myanmar faces food crisis because of cyclone +


BANGKOK, Thailand -Myanmar faces food shortages in many parts of the country, largely because of last year's cyclone and a rat infestation that destroyed crops, according to a U.N. report released Wednesday.

About 185,000 tons of emergency food aid will be needed this year throughout the impoverished country, said the report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Program.

Cyclone Nargis, which left more than 130,000 people dead or missing in May last year, exacerbated the country's economic difficulties and raised the prospect of a humanitarian crisis.

"Access to food remains the critical challenge for the poorest people and for vulnerable populations in remote areas of Myanmar," said Chris Kaye, WFP's representative for Myanmar. "For many of those affected by Cyclone Nargis, who are engaged in rebuilding their lives and livelihoods, the limited delta harvest means they will continue to rely on assistance to meet their food needs."
About 2 million acres (800,000 hectares) of rice paddy were submerged by massive waves and 85 percent of seed stocks was destroyed.

Cheng Feng, an economist for the FAO, told The Associated Press rice production in the delta during the second half of 2008 fell 32.5 percent to 1.93 million tons from a year earlier. A shortage of labor, higher fertilizer prices and lower rice prices may also have dissuaded some delta farmers from planting, according to the U.N. report.

"There are still problems that need to be fixed," Feng said. "The farmers said they had to plant several times because the seeds they were given were not right for that area."

Rats — which multiplied because of the rare flowering of bamboo in 2007 — have damaged 1,693 acres (685 hectares) of rice and 988 acres (400 hectares) of maize in 121 villages in Chin state, the U.N. report said.

Citizens in Chin, Rakhine and other poor states are suffering "critical food insecurities" and "high levels" of malnutrition in children, the WFP said. People have resorted to foraging the forest for food, it said.

Agriculture Ministry officials in Myanmar were not available for comment Wednesday.

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