NEW DELHI - Millions of poor villagers across southern India are facing an imminent food shortage following months of intense drought and recent devastating floods, aid agencies warned Thursday.
The worst floods to hit the southern Indian states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh in a century have killed about 280 people, destroyed or washed away millions of acres of cropland and contaminated grain stocks in millions of homes.
"Floods and drought have set back India's fight against poverty by years," said Jayakumar Christian, director of World Vision India, an aid agency working in the region.
The state government of Andhra Pradesh, one of India's traditional rice-bowls, said food grain production in the state was expected to plummet by more than 900,000 tons due to the floods.
"Rice and other crops in an area of 260,000 hectares (642,000 acres) have been destroyed," state agriculture minister N. Raghuveera Rao said.
The floods came at a critical time when many farmers had sowed their winter crops and much of this has been washed away or damaged, Rao said.
The government has not announced plans to help residents deal with food shortages.
The were concerns among aid workers that the damage would likely set off a wave of migration to nearby towns and cities as farm workers, whose homes were destroyed and farmlands unfit for cultivation, tried to earn a living.
Aid agency ACT International has appealed for support for relief operations in the region, saying it was at risk of severe shortages due to the floods.
"India is entering a period of severe food vulnerability," Christian said by telephone from Bijapur in northern Karnataka.
At least 220 people were killed in Karnataka and another 63 in Andhra Pradesh. More than 1.5 million people in relief camps across both states were beginning to trek back to their homes as the skies cleared after nearly a week of torrential downpours.
"Everything we owned is destroyed," wailed Anjanamma, an impoverished farm worker in Chickmanchal village in northern Karnataka.
She said the family's annual stock of rice and lentils were soaked and inedible.