Myanmar asks for foreign aid to replant rice fields

BANGKOK, Thailand – Myanmar’s military government has appealed for international help in getting Irrawaddy Delta rice farmers back to their fields after Cyclone Nargis, as concerns grow about future food shortages if cultivators miss the upcoming planting season.

The request, conveyed to foreign aid officials in closed-door meetings in Myanmar, was being evaluated by the officials Thursday as emergency supplies continued to move into the disaster zone, though still in volumes far below what U.N. agencies say are needed. Medical experts warned of a possible outbreak of plague.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization has warned that the delta’s rice farmers – many of whom lost all their rice seeds in the cyclone and the tidal surge that followed – have less than two months to get back to cultivation.

“They are racing against the clock,” said Diderik de Vleeschauwer, an FAO spokesman. “They have a window of roughly 40 to 50 days for seeding and planting, otherwise they will lose this planting season.”

Myanmar authorities have tentatively estimated that it will cost about $243 million to buy seeds and fertilizer, repair irrigation works, desalinate fields and clean out ponds to help revive rice farming in the delta, Mynamar’s traditional rice basket.

The FAO believes that about 1.7 million acres of rice fields – or about 20 percent of the delta’s total rice land – needs rehabilitation. The agency has a team of international experts on the ground in the area to assess the situation.

Health experts issued new warnings about disease. The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Lehman College in New York concluded in a report issued Wednesday that plague, typhoid and dysentery are increasing dangers, as well as leptospirosis, a potentially life-threatening illness caused by a bacterium.


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