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WFP confirms rice crisis; more aid urged

WFP confirms rice crisis; more aid urged

PLANS to handle severe food shortages in the second half of 1995 have been urged

after a WFP report that verifies what everyone knew anyway - that this season's

rice harvest has been savaged.

The report says the rice yield [per

hectare] is higher than reported, but the actual land harvested is less than

reported.

"... the differences tend to balance out," the report says,

adding that the Ministry of Agriculture's estimate of a 350,000 tonne rice

shortfall "... [is] reasonably accurate."

The report highlights areas

where poor villages already on the edge of subsistence living are likely to be

even worse off.

The WFP reporting team, with help from the Cambodian Red

Cross, surveyed 775 villages in 93 communes in 16 provinces.

More than

200 villages were ranked as "most vulnerable" is an eight-step grading from most

to least vulnerable. Those villages represented more than 168,000 people - some

of whom harvested no rice at all after flood and drought damage.

Kompong

Thom and Prey Veng provinces provide the most extreme statistics.

In

Kompong Thom, 23 villages - more than 14,000 people - did not harvest a single

hectare of rice out of more than 3,200 hectares planted.

In eight Prey

Veng communes, containing 78 villages with more than 60,000 people, only 487

hectares of rice was harvested out of almost 15,000 hectares planted.

WFP director Kenro Oshidari said that the report highlights the need for

a "significant increase in help" from international donors.

There will be

urgent pleas for food aid - not the first to have been made from Phnom

Penh.

Oshidari said that WFP had 40,000 tonnes of aid already committed

for 1995, but that had to be doubled, at least.

When asked if WFP was

targeting specific countries for help, he said: "... we will be sending it to

everyone... we are trying our best to get help."

International donors

contribute food aid in cash, and with the money WFP and others buy rice, usually

from Thailand. A tonne of Thai rice now costs about $250, but shipping,

distribution and other costs would boost the cost of 40,000 tonnes of rice much

higher than $1 million.

The rice crisis began in August last year during

serious flooding, particularly areas close to the Mekong river. Many hectares of

nursery beds and newly transplanted seedlings were destroyed.

Farmers had

to wait for the waters to recede before planting, delaying the start of the

season. In October and November, the rainfall was lower than normal, causing

drought.

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