Bangladesh cyclone destroys 600,000 tonnes of rice

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DHAKA, Nov 18 (Reuters) A cyclone that has killed hundreds of people in Bangladesh has also destroyed at least 600,000 tonnes of rice in the fields, exacerbating a food shortage, according to preliminary estimates by the agriculture ministry.

The figure could be even higher when reports from all affected areas become available, an official at the agriculture ministry said today.

With the estimated loss due to the cyclone, the yield of the country's main rice variety, Aman, might fall short of target by over 1.6 million tonnes this season, ministry officials said.

Successive floods in July-September had washed away at least 1 million tonnes of Aman rice, they said.

The government had set a 13 million tonne production target for Aman this season, they said. Aman makes up some 41 percent of the country's total rice production.

The Category 4 Cyclone Sidr hit the impoverished country's vast coastline with winds of 250 kph (155 mph) and a 5-metre high water surge from the Bay of Bengal on Thursday night, leaving a trail of devastation.

''The storm has dealt a huge blow to the country's already luggish economy,'' said an agriculture official.

Cyclone Sidr, the deadliest storm to hit the country in one and a half decades, has also taken a heavy toll on livestock, fisheries, trees and vegetables in the country's south and southwestern coastal areas.

Kazi Belayet Hossain, president of Bangladesh Frozen Foods Exporters Association, said the cyclone washed away nearly 30 percent of the country's shrimp farms, causing an estimated 1.6 billion taka in damage.

It has also hampered preparations for planting winter crops including wheat, potatoes and oil seeds.

Economists fear that the cyclone could help fuel inflation, already running at around an annual 10 per cent.

Thousand of homes were flattened or blown away by the cyclone, the strongest since 1991, when a massive storm killed nearly 143,000 Bangladeshis.

C.S. Karim, agriculture adviser to the interim government, said that the government would now have to ensure adequate cultivation of two other rice varieties, Boro and Aus.

''We will have to ensure that there will be no crisis of fertiliser, seeds and irrigation during the next Boro and Aus seasons,'' Karim told reporters.

Bangladesh's army-backed interim authority, which took charge in January following widespread political unrest, said it would use all available resources to tackle the cyclone's aftermath.

A bigger post-cyclone agricultural rehabilitation plan is being worked out, one official said, without giving details.

REUTERS SG ND1412

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