FAO Issues Alerts On Flood Damage In Southern Africa, Drought In China

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on Monday issued an alert warning that “floods and heavy rains have significantly damaged whole areas of agricultural land across southern Africa and that the livelihood and food security of farmers and their families are at risk,” the Associated Press reports (2/7).

According to the FAO, more damage is possible since the rainy season is only half over and the cyclone season is due to peak in February, Agence France-Presse writes. “Most countries in the region, including Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe, are affected, [an FAO statement] said, quoting Cindy Holleman, FAO regional emergency coordinator. ‘Food insecurity levels are already critical in the affected areas of some of these countries and floods will only further worsen the ability of poor farmers to cope and feed their families in the coming months,’ Holleman added,” the news service reports (2/7). 

An FAO assessment team found that in some flooded areas in Lesotho, “up to 60 percent of the harvest has been lost and more than 4,700 livestock, mainly sheep and goats, have died,” the U.N. News Centre writes. “Localized crop losses are also reported along river banks in southern and central Mozambique. … South Africa has already declared a national state of disaster in many districts of the country due to the floods that have destroyed thousands of hectares of crop land, and caused damage estimated in the millions of dollars,” according to the news service (2/7).

VOA News notes that FAO is currently “conducting an assessment of the region and is expected to have a new estimate on crop damage next week.” FAO Senior Emergency Officer Jean Alexander Scaglia said, “It seems that we are just at the beginning of the problem” (DeCapua, 2/7).

The FAO on Tuesday also issued a special alert (.pdf) about severe drought in China, which is affecting “the country’s main winter wheat-producing area,” Bloomberg reports.  

“Rainfall has been substantially below normal since October, with diminished snow cover reducing the protection of dormant plants against frost, the organization said … The drought is ‘potentially a serious problem,’ it said,” the news service writes (Poole, 2/8). FAO “said that 5.16 million hectares, or 12.75 million acres, of China’s 14 million hectares of wheat fields had been affected by the drought, and that 2.57 million people and 2.79 million head of livestock faced shortages of drinking water,” the New York Times reports.

In a “special alert,” the U.N. agency said the effects of the drought have so far been tempered by relatively few days of subzero temperatures and government irrigation projects. But it said that extreme cold could have “devastating” results. “Kisan Gunjal, the FAO food emergency officer in Rome for Asia alerts, said by telephone that if rain came soon and temperatures warmed up, then the wheat crop could still be saved and a bumper crop might even be possible,” the newspaper reports. According to Gunjal, this is the first FAO special alert issued this year. “There was only one last year, expressing ‘grave concern’ about food supplies in the Sahel region of Africa, notably Niger,” the New York Times writes.

“Chinese state news media are describing the drought in increasingly dire terms,” the newspaper notes. “‘Minimal rainfall or snow this winter has crippled China’s major agricultural regions, leaving many of them parched,’ reported Xinhua, the state-run news agency. ‘Crop production has fallen sharply, as the worst drought in six decades shows no sign of letting up'” (Bradsher, 2/8).

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