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Philippines grapples with new crisis from typhoon

A man cleans spoiled rice in a devastated area in Tacloban City in the Philippines.
Getty Images
A man cleans spoiled rice in a devastated area in Tacloban City in the Philippines.

Typhoon Haiyan's deadly impact on the Philippines could get worse by leaving millions hungry if the country's farmers don't get help in replenishing the country's devastated rice harvest—and the clock is ticking, an international relief and development organization has warned.

"They need assistance, and they need it now," Gawain Kripke, director of policy at Oxfam, said in a phone interview.

What's needed are tools, fertilizer, seeds and machinery, along with efforts to clear irrigation channels and repair damaged agricultural infrastructure, he said.

"They only have a few weeks until the December planting time, and time is running out," Kripke said.

Rice harvests in the five Philippine regions most affected by Haiyan have been annihilated, according to Oxfam and the United Nation's Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).

Haiyan descended on the country just as farmers were harvesting the main season crop, which represents more than 50 percent of the annual production, according to an Oxfam release.

(Read more: Philippines needs to think smart to attract private sector to rebuilding)

Oxfam said that missing the next rice-planting season in December would leave millions of Filipinos without their daily staple food, and would result in a huge loss of income and more debt for farmers.

"Donors have naturally focused on giving immediate aid like shelter and health care, and that's very good," Kripke said. "But nothing's really coming in to help the farmers recover their agricultural livelihood that would help feed the people."

Philippines need to import rice

Haiyan struck the Philippines on Nov. 8, leaving at least 5,000 people dead, according to the latest reports. Estimates indicate that the final death toll could reach 10,000. Some 2.5 million people have been displaced by the storm.

Crop losses from Haiyan are valued at $110 million, with overall agricultural losses double that, according to the FAO.

Though the Philippines is the eighth-largest rice producer in the world, it remains a leading importer of the grain.

Reasons for the shortfall include the country's high population growth of 2 percent, which means that keeping pace with demand requires increasing yields at rates "rarely seen in history," according to the International Rice Research Institute. The organization also cites a limited amount of land for agriculture and a poor irrigation infrastructure.

The FAO has called for $24 million in immediate aid to 250,000 households involved in agriculture and fisheries. This comes amid reports of the looting of rice warehouses. On Nov. 13, eight people died on the island of Leyte when thousands rushed a storage facility and a wall collapsed.

'Harvest could be useless'

Debris blown off houses during Typhoon Haiyan litters a rice field in Hernani, in the central Philippines.
Ted Aljibe | AFP | Getty Images
Debris blown off houses during Typhoon Haiyan litters a rice field in Hernani, in the central Philippines.

After Haiyan, the FAO downgraded its 2013 forecast for rice production in the Philippines from 18.9 million to 18 million tons. The 900,000 ton gap will be felt most acutely in the five regions hardest hit by the storm, the FAO said.

Complicating the situation is that harvested rice could be inedible.

"A lot of what was collected and stored on farms is contaminated from the typhoon," said Kripke at Oxfam. "So even the current supplies on hand may not be able to feed people."

Million of dollars in international aid have been promised, and some of it is getting through. The Philippine government said nearly 25,000 relief workers, 104 ships and boats, and 163 aircraft from various countries have been deployed.

(Read more: Activists walk out of UN climate talks)

The Philippines set a goal of releasing 150,000 food kits a day, but the government has encountered logistical and infrastructure challenges in delivering them to those who need them.

(Read more: For young typhoon survivors, return of play is a sign of hope)

The U.N. Development Program has pledged $5 million to help clear debris that is hampering relief efforts, but clean-up costs could be quadruple that amount, according to a UNDP spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, the economic planning secretary for the Philippines said that while the fundamentals of the its economy are intact, the final cost of rebuilding from Hayian could reach $5.8 billion.

But the more immediate crisis of the rice harvest is what has drawn Oxfam's concern and, the organization hopes, the world's concern.

"The window of opportunity for the next [December] planting season is closing quickly," Kripke saud."That's why we're calling on the international community to do more for the rice farmers and why we're raising this alarm now."

—By CNBC's Mark Koba. Follow him on Twitter @MarkKobaCNBC

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