A cyclone off the coast of Bangladesh is looming at a time the country - facing a critical food shortage - is harvesting what is expected to be a bumper rice crop. But, as VOA correspondent Steve Herman reports from our South Asia Bureau in New Delhi, officials say there is no reason, yet, for farmers to panic.
Cyclone Nargis is about 1,000 kilometers from the coast of Bangladesh. However, there is concern the storm has the potential to damage a bumper rice crop.
Meteorologists are warning that the storm could become a powerful Category Four cyclone in several days.
Farmers in Bangladesh have been in the fields harvesting what is known as the "boro" crop. Completing the harvest could take another two weeks.
Agriculture Ministry spokesman Abdulla Al-Shahin denies reports officials in Dhaka have asked farmers to rush harvesting the rice, so that the crop will not be damaged by strong winds.
"The cyclone is very far away from Bangladesh," Al-Shahin said. "Whatever the effect of the cyclone is, that will be known within a day or two. At this stage, the farmers need not panic. They will have to be careful, but not panic."
Fresh in the memory of Bangladeshis is Cyclone Sidr, which hit last November. That storm killed an estimated 3,500 people and left two million others homeless. The cyclone destroyed about 1.8 million tons of rice.
The cyclone and an earlier flood are blamed for serious food shortages in the country. The situation has been exacerbated by a global spike in prices for rice, the staple food of Bangladesh.
Officials have estimated that the current boro crop will yield 17.5 million tons of rice, two million tons more than last year. It is hoped such a bumper crop would reduce rice prices, alleviating some of the suffering in a country which frequently faces critical food shortages.