Burma 'had 48 hours warning' of cyclone

India warned Burma it was going to be hit by cyclone Nargis two days before it made landfall there, an official said today.

The state-run Indian Meteorological Department had been keeping a close watch on the depression in the Bay of Bengal since it was first spotted on April 28 and sent regular updates about its progress to all the countries in its path, a spokesman said.

“Forty-eight hours in advance we informed the Burma weather department about the likely area of landfall as well as time and intensity of the cyclone,” he said.

The IMD issues regular cyclone warnings and updates to Bangladesh, Burma, Thailand, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Oman and Pakistan.

Meanwhile, experts have said that Burma’s rice-growing heartland has been devastated by the cyclone bringing fears of long-term food shortages.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that five states hit hardest by Saturday’s cyclone produce 65% of the country’s rice. The region also is home to 80% of its fishing, 50% of its poultry and 40% of its pig production.

Of most concern is the rice production, since the impoverished country has produced enough to feed itself and, more recently, stave off the rising prices that have hit other parts of the region.

“There is likely going to be shortages in the next 18 to 24 months,” said Sean Turnell, an economist specialising in Burma. “Things will be tough.”

Once the world’s top rice producer before the Second World War, Burma has in the past four decades seen its rice exports drop from nearly 4 million tons per year to only about 600,000 tons this year.

The country’s exports are so small these days that few expect the cyclone to have any impact on world rice prices.

Mostly due to the mismanagement by the country’s ruling generals, the country’s road network and rice storage facilities have crumbled and such things as fertiliser and credit for farmers is almost non-existent.

Now, the country must confront the reality that entire rice-growing regions are under water. Many of the roads and bridges needed to transport what crop can be salvaged may have been destroyed by the cyclone.

The UN World Food Program, which has started feeding the estimated million homeless people in Burma, said there were immediate concerns about salvaging harvested rice in the flooded Irrawaddy delta, known as the country’s rice bowl.

It also warned that the rice harvest in the Bago district could be lost since it was still in the ground, and future plantings in the delta could be threatened by the storm’s tidal surges.

The FAO also predicted that annual crops of rice along with oil palm and rubber plantations “are expected” to be damaged in areas hit by the cyclone. They are sending in an assessment team in the coming days to have a closer look.

“There is risk that stored rice seeds kept by farmers - usually under poor storage facilities - might be affected by the cyclone,” the FAO said. “Some rice crops under irrigation might be affected, if not yet harvested.”

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