By Paul Tighe
June 10 (Bloomberg) -- Cyclone survivors in Myanmar's Irrawaddy River Delta will probably need food aid for a year because last month's storm destroyed fields, preventing planting in the main food-producing region, a United Nations agency said.
``Households and farmers will likely require some form of food assistance through their next harvest, which could be up to a year away,'' Paul Risley, a spokesman for the World Food Programme, said in Bangkok yesterday, according to the UN's IRIN news agency.
An estimated 200,000 hectares (494,210 acres), or 16 percent of the agricultural land in the delta, was damaged by Tropical Cyclone Nargis, the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization says. The region's five worst-affected states produce most of the rice, fish and pork for Myanmar's 47.8 million people.
International relief agencies are mounting an operation to supply more than 2.4 million people affected by the May 2-3 cyclone that left as many as 134,000 people dead or missing. Aid has reached only about a half of those in need because Myanmar's military rulers delayed permission for aid workers to travel to the delta after the storm, the UN says.
A tidal surge that swept about 35 kilometers inland during the cyclone resulted in saline damage to fields and other areas are still under water, the UN said.
``We have to complete the sowing of seedlings by the end of July at the latest,'' IRIN cited Hiroyuki Konuma, the FAO's deputy regional representative in Bangkok, as saying yesterday. ``Otherwise, it will create tremendous damage to the production of rice.''
The livelihood of farmers will be threatened and, eventually, ``the national food security of Myanmar itself'' will be affected, he added.
Farmers need at least six months to replace lost food stocks, Risley said.
The UN was able to fly six of its 10 aid-carrying helicopters into the Irrawaddy delta, Agence France-Presse cited Risley as saying yesterday. Four more will probably start operating this week, he said.
The helicopters are needed because they speed up relief efforts to villages that are accessible only by boat, Risley said last week.
The Australian government rented four of the helicopters from a private South African company and Canada brought in four from Ukraine to form the WFP's helicopter team, he said last week. The WFP had managed to fly only one helicopter into the country since May 22. It reached the delta town of Labutta on June 2, he said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Paul Tighe in Sydney at firstname.lastname@example.org.