Philippines plea amid rice fear

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Large areas of Philippines towns and countryside were hit by the storms

The Philippines, badly hit by typhoons, floods and landslides, is to import more rice sooner this year amid fears of a food shortage.

The United Nations has launched a flash appeal to help the country recover from Typhoon Ketsana which killed about 300 people and displaced half a million.

The UN appealed for $74m (£46.6m) to help one million of the worst affected people for six months.

The Philippines is the world’s largest rice importer.

It traditionally imports from Thailand and Vietnam, although Vietnam was also hit by Typhoon Ketsana.

Rice supply

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The Philippines will start its 2010 rice import process after a government panel determines the amount, possibly this week, the state’s National Food Authority said.

It needs to import more of the grain to avert a potential supply shortage in the first half of 2010 after typhoons lashed many of its rice-producing areas during the last two weeks.

NFA spokesman Rex Estoperez warned consumers not to indulge in panic buying as supplies were adequate for the moment.

Philippines President Gloria Arroyo said food imports needed to be organised as soon as possible.

Total damage from the storms in the Philippines to crops, mostly rice, has reached 7.63 billion pesos ($164 million), the agriculture department said.

Aid appeal

When launching its appeal the UN said about 500,000 people have fled their homes and are still living in emergency shelters.

The UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator, John Holmes, said the challenge was not only to raise money for the Philippines.

"Until this recent series of disasters in the Asia Pacific region, including in Samoa, we haven’t a huge major natural disasters," he said.

"So I hope the donors will have money in their back pocket for the end of the year for the Philippines and also perhaps for Indonesia, because we’re also talking to the government there about what we can do to help them," said Mr Holmes.

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Disaster agencies say they are overwhelmed by the scale of disaster

The UN money would be spent on food, water, sanitation facilities, emergency shelter and health care for those worst affected by the storms.

To jump-start the response, Mr Holmes said he had authorised an immediate allocation of $7m from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund.

The appeal has already received between $9m and $10m, he said.

The US Agency for International Development is giving $1.8m.

President Barack Obama has sent "deep condolences for the loss of life and devastation caused by recent storms in the Philippines".

Health help

The World Food Programme said it was providing helicopters and dinghies.

"Many needy people live in areas that still remain inaccessible because of the widespread flooding," WFP’s director in the Philippines Stephen Anderson said in a statement from the UN agency’s Rome headquarters.

At least 16 hospitals, as well as rural and community health centres, were damaged, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said.

WHO spokesman Paul Garwood said the risk of disease was heightened by the damage to water and sanitation systems.

"There are fears of outbreaks of communicable diseases, as yet there have been no reported major outbreaks," he added.

Typhoon Ketsana hit Manila and surrounding areas on 26 September, causing the worst flooding in the capital in more than four decades.

Eight days later, Parma blew across the country’s mountainous north, bringing more rain.

A third typhoon, Melor, blew into Philippine waters on Monday but shifted course and was heading toward southern Japan where it is expected to make landfall on Thursday.