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Date :  2004-12-29
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FAO assessing damage in countries devastated by tsunamis in South Asia

Poor farming and fishing communities need urgent assistance to restart productive activities

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The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is conducting damage assessment missions in each of the countries affected by Sunday's devastating tsunamis in South Asia to assess the impact on the agriculture and fisheries sectors and provide detailed information on the assistance needed, the agency announced today.

Coastal communities across South Asia and as far away as Somalia were obliterated when walls of seawater crashed ashore Sunday morning, leaving more than 60 000 dead, with more than half in Indonesia alone, according to recent estimates.

"These communities have lost all their productive assets," said Fernanda Guerrieri, Chief of FAO's Emergency Operations Service. "Obviously the most pressing needs are for medical supplies, clean water, food, shelter and sanitation, but the affected communities need to restart productive activities as soon as possible so that they can feed themselves and to avoid mass migration of the displaced to already overpopulated cities."

Assessing immediate and long-term needs

The countries hardest hit by the disaster are India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Somalia. FAO representatives in affected countries are working with other UN agencies to coordinate their relief efforts, and the UN is preparing to launch a flash appeal to fund aid to all the affected countries.

"FAO already has technical staff working in most of the countries, and as aid comes in, these experts will be able to assist governments in setting priorities," said Guerrieri. "More detailed assessment will enable sustainable rehabilitation after immediate needs have been met."

The assessment missions currently under way will provide a better picture of the needs of hard-hit fishing communities, where the loss of boats and fishing gear mean loss of income and livelihoods, especially for poor fishing households who may not have adequate savings to replace their assets and who are unlikely to meet the immediate food needs of their families without assistance.

Damage to crops and agricultural land will also be assessed and will help FAO plan its agricultural rehabilitation and food security activities. According to Guerrieri, the most immediate needs in the agricultural sector include seeds, fertilizers, tools, small livestock and assistance in rehabilitating small-scale infrastructure such as irrigation schemes, animal shelters, and market and storage structures.

In Sri Lanka, one of the worst-affected countries, FAO is responding to an official request for assistance by helping the Government mobilize its field staff in affected districts for emergency-related work. It will also provide necessary rehabilitation assistance to the food and agriculture sector after making an assessment of the damage.

In the Maldives, where the Government estimates that two thirds of the population has been affected, communication with a number of outlying islands is still impossible. In Indonesia, problems of access in some hard-hit areas are also making it difficult to get a complete picture of the devastation there. Assessment missions are under way in both countries, however, and more detailed information is expected soon.

In those countries that have not yet requested aid, FAO stands ready to assist governments in their assessment and relief efforts.


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