Floods and Food Security

ASEAN needs to co-ordinate its response to the floods that have hit Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Mong Palatino

Heavy rains in recent weeks have triggered flood-related disasters in rural parts of the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam that could have significant adverse effects on food security in the region.

While strong rains are expected at this time of the year, no one anticipated that the current monsoon season would unleash one of the worst environmental disasters in years. Thailand, for example, experienced its worst flooding in almost half a century. Since October 10, more than 30 provinces in 161 districts—mostly in the rural north-east—have been affected by floods. The outside world even got an online glimpse of the fatal impact of the flooding after footage of stranded passengers, hospital patients being evacuated on boats, and flooded two-storey houses were uploaded onto the internet.

Meanwhile, the Philippines bore the brunt of the strongest tropical cyclone in the world this year when Typhoon Megi battered the northern rural provinces of the country last Sunday and Monday. Several towns across three provinces became isolated when the typhoon destroyed roads, power lines and communication signals.

The flooding and the torrential rains came at a particularly bad time as farmers have yet to harvest their crops. The floodwater may be receding in many areas and the typhoon threat may have been lowered, but the real longer term cost has yet to be seen.

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In addition, fields were destroyed and farmers in northeast Thailand, central Vietnam and the northern Philippines have been left devastated. The provincial governor of Isabela in northeast Philippines reported that all of the crops in the province had been wiped out by Typhoon Megi. Authorities also learned that more than 2000 sacks of rice in government warehouses were lost during the typhoon. The Thai Chamber of Commerce has estimated that 1.6 million rai of farmland in the central plains of Thailand have been inundated and agricultural losses are estimated at 7.7 billion baht ($234 million).   

The recent disasters are expected to create a notable dip in the agricultural output in the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam and this could worsen hunger incidences in the already food poor provinces of these countries.

When they’ve finished rebuilding their homes, the rural poor will then have to worry about making their lands productive again and national and local governments in the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam should therefore be ready to provide their farmers with any necessary emergency relief and technical assistance.   

But this shouldn’t be viewed as a kind of parochial concern of individual countries—this is a regional problem. Thailand and Vietnam are agricultural exporters and their farm output losses will have a negative impact on the food security of many other countries in the region. The time is right for the Association of South-east Asian Nations to prove its relevance as a regional bloc by coordinating relief efforts at a regional level. It should start by convening immediately to assess and resolve the food security issues and agricultural trade imbalances created by the floods.