Beyond the threat of disease and hunger, tsunami-struck southern Asia risks a rural exodus without swift emergency aid to rebuild agriculture, a U.N. official warned.
ROME Beyond the threat of disease and hunger, tsunami-struck southern Asia risks a rural exodus without swift emergency aid to rebuild agriculture, a U.N. official warned on Wednesday.
Fernanda Guerrieri, chief of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation's emergency operation service, said in an interview the massive effort will take at least two years and billions of dollars in financial aid.
The FAO alone, she said, will need more than $50 million in the next six months to help the millions of people on Indian Ocean shores already scrambling for food and clean water.
It is only a matter of time before they start heading to the nearest towns and cities.
"That's what we would like to prevent. This massive movement to the urban centres," Guerrieri said.
"The urban centres are not prepared to receive them."
FAO teams, many of them already in countries hard-hit by rural poverty prior to the tsunami, were still in the phase of "need assessment" in worst-off nations Sri Lanka and Thailand.
Experts were flying over the hard-to-reach areas of other countries, including Somalia, to assess damage, she said.
"We expect the recovery process to take a very long time, unfortunately. I think we can give them some productive capacity in six months, but I think it could take up to 24 months to completely recover," she said.
Guerrieri warned of dangers in the months ahead, including the chance that wealthy nations may try to dump low-quality seeds on the crisis-hit region.
"Disaster should not be the occasion to dump on these people low quality inputs ... seeds that don't germinate, fertilizers that are not appropriate for certain environments," she said.
She said the FAO, which delivers support across the globe, feared attention to Asia could hurt assistance programmes elsewhere, such as Iraq and Sudan.
There had been no impact so far, however.
"Usually there is always a certain negative affect. For the governments, visibility is very important. So they may divert resources that were targeted to other emergencies," she said.
"We must not forget these other crises."