Thousands of acres of farmland were destroyed in Hadramaut Governorate, southeastern Yemen, by the late October floods, raising the spectre of long-term food insecurity, according to Agriculture Ministry officials.
"The devastation was huge. Hadramaut is now a food insecure governorate. Food security has been badly affected by the floods. Farmers depended on the produce from their land but now they will have to buy food items," Ahmed al-Ashlah, deputy minister of agriculture and irrigation, told IRIN in Seyoun.
"Some 80 percent of farmers were affected by the floods. They have now become poor," said Mohammed Faraj Abdoon, head of the Agriculture Ministry's office in Mukalla.
In Hadramaut Valley (covering 16 districts) 93,390 acres of agricultural land were swept away, according to the Agriculture Ministry's office in Seyoun - destroying 570,857 palm trees, 5,239 lemon trees, 35,819 other fruit trees, and 66,680 beehives.
Hundreds of wells and items of agricultural equipment, as well as hundreds of livestock were also lost in the floods, according to agricultural officials.
Topsoil washed away
Officials have expressed concern about the destruction of the topsoil, saying it will take 5-8 years for the situation to rectify itself.
Mohammed Faraj Abdoon warned there would be a reduction in agriculture production in the coming years, telling IRIN: "If we brought in soil, it would be less fertile than the previous soil."
|My source of income has collapsed. My family's source of food has gone with the floods. There is little or nothing to eat..|
Al-Ashlah said the situation had been aggravated by the floods coinciding with the wheatgrowing season. Urgent remedial action was being taken: "We have distributed 180 tonnes of improved wheat seeds to farmers so they can re-start the cultivation of wheat. This might compensate them for their losses. Only a month is left in the wheat growing season."
According to the Agriculture Ministry's office in Seyoun, losses in Hadramaut Valley are estimated at US$360 million. In coastal districts, losses are estimated at $25 million, according to the Agriculture Ministry's office in Mukalla.
Only two out of 35 farms were left unscathed in the al-Ays area of Mukalla District. Over 250 acres of agricultural land were swept away, according to Saeed Omar, leader of the al-Ays area.
Saeed Mubarak, a local resident, said he lost 30 acres: "My source of income has collapsed. My family's source of food has gone with the floods. There is little or nothing to eat," he said.
Like many other farmers, Mubarak grows cereals and vegetables which he uses to feed his eight children and wife, selling any surplus. "But now we will have to buy food in the shops," he said, adding that previously cultivated land had been turned into stony valleys.
In coastal areas of the governorate (covering 14 districts), floods swept away 6,955 out of 20,000 hectares of agricultural land, and 23,957 trees were washed away, according to a statement by the Agriculture Ministry's office in Mukalla.
Meanwhile, vegetable and fruit prices went up sharply after the floods - 80 percent according to Ali Salman, a shopkeeper in Sanaa.
|Map of Yemen showing flood-hit Hadramaut and Al Maharah provinces|
WFP, UNICEF operations
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) office in Yemen said it began distributing food to flood victims on 25 October. During the first week, it distributed ready-to-eat food (including dates and high-energy biscuits) to families whose homes had been destroyed.
In the second week it began distributing a food basket to needy families (wheat, pulses, sugar, salt, vegetable oil, high-energy biscuits and dates). Since the beginning of the operation, it has distributed 87 tonnes of food to over 11,800 beneficiaries in and around Mukalla, Qatan, Tarim, and Sah districts.
The current operation is designed to help 20,000-25,000 Yemenis over the next two months - until the next harvest in April 2009.
The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said it would be setting up a nutrition programme for children in flood-affected areas of Hadramaut. Naseem Ur-Rehman, chief communications and information officer at UNICEF in Yemen, said UNICEF would conduct a nutrition assessment of affected children.
"In emergencies and floods the plight of already malnourished children is made worse. For them there will be supplies of Formula 75 and Formula 100 milk enriched with vitamins," he told IRIN, adding that displaced families would be given vitamin A supplements.
About 12 percent of children are acutely malnourished in Yemen, he said, adding that children were very often the last to get nutritious food: "In times of emergency, for UNICEF, children are the first. But the truth is this food distribution is focused on elderly people, and children get what is left by the parents or their older siblings."