DROUGHT THREATENS THOUSANDS OF FAMILIES IN BOLIVIA, GUATEMALA
PANAMA - The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) launched an international appeal today for US$1 million to fund a six-month emergency food aid operation in Bolivia, where prolonged drought has seriously affected at least 41,000 people.
Bolivia is one of several Latin American countries still reeling from the effects of freak weather patterns which have brought severe drought, floods and even snow storms. Together they have wreaked havoc on the livelihoods of the region's poor.
Seven municipalities of El Chaco a vast and arid region in southeastern Bolivia that makes up about 12 percent of the country are suffering from crop failure and a shortage of drinking water as a direct result of a severe drought which started in January, reportedly the worst in seven years.
"With each month that passes, the drought silently takes its toll, with more and more people pushed into extreme poverty. The drought is not making headlines and contributions to help Bolivia are not forthcoming," said Philip Clarke, WFP's Regional Director in Panama.
El Chaco has a population of 300,000, 65 percent of whom are poor and whose livelihoods are in some way affected by the ongoing drought.
WFP needs 2,600 metric tons of food to assist the hardest hit municipalities of Boyuibe, Camiri, Charagua, Cuevo, Gutierrez, Huacaya and Machareti, where peasants have lost an average of 90 percent of their maize harvest.
In October, WFP used advance funds to aid gravely affected communities, purchasing enough food to cover basic needs for one month. But food aid is needed through May 2005, until the arrival of the next maize harvest.
"If we don't get the needed resources soon, there will be a drastic reduction in the number of people we can reach over the following critical months, before the harvest next May," added Clarke.
The drought has forced families to cut back their food intake drastically, reducing it by half, in an area already plagued by high levels of malnutrition. Chronic malnutrition affects 26 percent of Bolivia's population.
The drought is also consistently diminishing clean water supplies. Some families are drinking the same water as their livestock, increasing health problems and the potential for disease outbreak. There is growing evidence that people are selling off their livestock, children are dropping out of school and people are beginning to migrate, forced to search for alternative sources of sustenance and income.
The new emergency operation comes at a time when WFP development projects in Bolivia face a serious funding shortfall of US$33 million through 2007. So far, only US$9 million out of a total of US$42 million have been pledged.
WFP food is distributed in collaboration with World Vision and the Vicariato de Cuevo, a local NGO.
Dry spells and irregular rains have severely crippled the September harvest in Guatemala that would, under normal climatic conditions, sustain more than 100,000 people who live along the "drought corridor", which includes Jalapa, Jutiapa, El Progreso, Zacapa, and Chiquimula, and the northwestern region of Guatemala.
It is expected that "El Niño" may delay the start of the rainy season in 2005, causing further drought. The accumulated impact of crop losses during the first harvest in September and eventual losses next year due to the anticipated "El Niño" will have a significant impact on the lives of the most vulnerable, especially children.
Almost 50 percent of children under five suffer chronic malnutrition in Guatemala.
Low prices for coffee and other locally grown products are aggravating the economic situation, reducing the income levels of many poor peasants.
Since September 2004, WFP has already distributed 705 MT of corn, beans, cooking oil and corn soya blend (CSB) at a total cost of US$390,000 in drought affected provinces. It assisted approximately 9,310 children suffering from acute malnutrition and their families. However, WFP projects in Guatemala are facing a serious shortfall of US$10 million until the end of 2006.
Irregular weather is also affecting Guatemala's neighbor, Honduras, where more than a quarter of a million people are affected by drought and 59,400 hectares of crops have been lost in 23 municipalities in the provinces of Francisco Morazan, Choluteca, Valle and El Paraiso.
In order to support the Government of Honduras after it declared a regional food emergency in September in the drought-affected areas, WFP needs US$1.5 million to assist 56,650 vulnerable people for five months, from November to March, especially children under the age of five, women and the elderly.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: in 2003 we gave food aid to a record 104 million people in 81 countries, including 56 million hungry children.
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