Vol. 5 Num 295 Sat. March 26, 2005  

Tsunami food crisis averted in Asia: WFP

The starvation and malnutrition crisis feared after the tsunami struck the Indian Ocean in December has been averted in less than three months, the UN food agency said yesterday.

Emergency efforts are winding down, but the long-term reconstruction work continues with more than 1.75 million people in Asia and Africa receiving aid from the World Food Programme (WFP), mostly in Indonesia, Myanmar, the Maldives and Sri Lanka, the agency said.

"Our aim now is to help these poor people get a new start in life by drawing on the unprecedented support for tsunami relief from the public and private sector," Kenro Oshidari, WFP's deputy regional director for Asia said in a statement.

"We have an opportunity today to lift some communities from the vicious cycle of poverty and hunger that plagued their lives before the tsunami."

The organisation has shipped more than 50,000 tonnes of food -- including fortified biscuits, rice, cooking oil and sugar -- using military helicopters, ships, cargo ships and trucks.

In Indonesia, help for 350,000 schoolchildren, 55,000 pregnant women and nursing mothers, and 130,000 children aged under five are now the main recipients of food aid, the WFP said.

From April, the programme will start giving 120,000 Sri Lankan children a nutritious snack in school. The agency is providing food aid to a total of 709,000 people in Sri Lanka.

The WFP said it is also working with the Food and Agricultural Organisation, and the International Organisation for Migration and other bodies to clear debris in Sri Lankan fishing communities and to replace boats and nets.

Before the tsunami, some 37 percent of the Sri Lankan communities surveyed relied on fishing for their livelihoods. Now only one percent do, according to WFP.

Some 8,000 people in Myanmar are being helped with four months' food, while in the Maldives 24,000 children were fed in school for seven weeks and another 42,000 people are receiving food rations.

Operations to help 18,000 people in Thailand, including 8,000 school students in the six affected southern provinces, are winding down.

The WFP's Asia division also helped 31,000 people in Somalia, which was also hit by the deadly waves.