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GUATEMALA
Drought´s toll mounts
11/11/2009
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Hunger-related deaths and starvation rise as farmers lose their crops from severe drought.

The deadly drought that has killed 550 people this year in Guatemala as high temperatures and marginal precipitation ravaged crops has caused some US$9 million in damages, according to the National Seismology, Volcanology, Meteorology and Hydrology Institute.

The government body said the drought, which has affected seven of Guatemala´s 22 departments, is the worst in 30 years, and was caused by this year´s El Niño event, a meteorological phenomenon caused by warmer-than-average ocean temperatures and extreme weather patterns, such as heavy rains and in this case, extreme drought.

This year´s drought brought even more damage to forests and the livestock sector, since there is no pasture for animals.

The lack of rain ruined corn and bean crops as well as other basic foods in the southeastern departments of the semi-arid region known as the “dry corridor” – Baja Verapaz, Chiquimula, El Progreso, Santa Rosa, Zacapa, Jutiapa and Jalapa – where rainfall totals just an average of 7 millimeters a year.

In September, President Álvaro Colom declared the country “state of public calamity” because of the droughts that have affected some 400,000 families. According to the Health Ministry, 54 of the 550 deaths caused by the drought between January and August were children.

More than half of Guatemala´s 14 million people lives in poverty, according to the United Nations.

“Even though there have already been major losses, it´s just the tip of the iceberg,” said Luis Ríos, the Environment Ministry´s Desertification and Drought Unit.

There are areas in Guatemala “that are dry and the biodiversity develops and adapts to those conditions,” wrote Ríos on the Ministry´s Web site. “However, the problem is when climate conditions worsen in areas that are not used to the aridity.”

“The problem will not only affect agriculture, livestock...” he added. “This drought will limit access to water in many regions. That becomes a social problem and if this emergency is not attended to, there could be conflicts over this vital liquid and some populations could begin migrating to other regions.”
—Latinamerica Press.


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