Drought-affected Central America faces serious food shortages: UN agency

4 September 2001

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned that about 1.6 million people in Central America were in need of food aid as a result of a recent drought in the region, which is still struggling to recover from a 1998 hurricane, earthquakes earlier this year and the loss of jobs after the closure of coffee plantations.

The countries most affected by the drought were El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala, although the impact was also being felt in Costa Rica and extended as far as coastal areas of the Gulf of Panama, the UN agency said in a statement issued on Monday at its headquarters in Rome.

According to FAO, following abundant rains in May, a bumper harvest was needed for the region to recover from the shortfall caused by disasters in recent years. "However, expectations of a 13 per cent increase in aggregate cereal output from last year's drought-affected crop were dampened by a dry spell in June and July," FAO said, noting that current estimates suggested an aggregate cereal output of 2.3 million tonnes for these countries - some 8 per cent lower than the last five-year average.

"All the countries are traditionally net importers of maize and beans, and their cereal import requirements, including food aid, are expected to remain at last year's high volume of 2.4 million tonnes," the FAO statement said. "This volume of imports would maintain per capita consumption at last year's level, but additional imports would be needed to improve the nutritional status of the undernourished population."

The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) and other organizations were already providing food aid to the population. "However, if the drought continues into the second season or hurricanes destroy crops, there is a serious concern about the food security early next year of those farmers who had gathered a poor harvest of first season crops," FAO's statement said.

In other news, FAO announced that an international forum on forestry had opened today in Tuscany, Italy, to discuss how to manage forest resources to fight poverty and food insecurity. The Forum encourages participants to identify concrete ways in which forest policy, legislation and programmes can be reframed to address poverty alleviation more effectively. It is examining the linkages between forests, poverty and food security, with the aim of offering insights for better forest policy implementation as a contribution to the forthcoming "World Food Summit - Five Years Later," FAO said.


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