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55,000 hit by drought in Bolivia's El Chaco region

Some 55,000 people are being severely affected by a prolonged drought in El Chaco region with serious damages to crops, affecting drinking water availability and the health situation in the region, one of the driest areas of the country comprising 16 municipalities in the Departments of Santa Cruz, Chuquisaca and Tarija.

Last July, WFP and UNICEF carried out a preliminary assessment in the municipalities of El Chaco (Camiri, Cuevo and GutiƩrrez), reporting crop loss, drinking water shortage and forecasting increased malnutrition and diarrhoea.

According to a rapid impact assessment carried out between August and September by the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Defense, the Red Cross and Department Prefectures, with the support of WFP and FAO, the situation is most critical in seven municipalities five in Santa Cruz and two in Chuquisaca - where 55,000 rural inhabitants .are affected.

In these seven places, crop failure (mainly corn) reaches 93 percent. Agricultural production is the source of 85 percent of rural families' food. Most of these peoples' income, some 300,000 rural inhabitants, depends on corn and bean production.

Food and water, the most urgent needs

More than 500 rural families and 160 key informants were surveyed in 16 municipalities. According to the report, most of the surveyed families identified food and water as their main needs in the current situation.

In the seven worst-hit municipalities, 65 percent of the families declared that they do not have sufficient food supplies. Some 66 percent of the crops have been lost across the whole region.

Water consumption has dropped dramatically and some families are drinking the same water as their cattle. Male heads of some households have started migrating to find alternative sources of income.

Women, in turn, are doing housework in nearby urban areas. This increased migration and the consequent shortage of labour affects communal activities, such as the construction of drinking water systems.

There are even cases in which the whole family migrates, affecting children's health and education, as well as the social cohesion of the community.

UN agencies support

The UN Disaster Management Team (UNETE) in Bolivia has organised support groups by area: WFP and FAO will support the government in food security and production matters, whereas UNICEF and WHO will provide assistance in health, nutrition and water related issues.

WFP has started food assistance in three municipalities: Gutierrez, Cuevo and Camiri in Santa Cruz with Country Programme resources. Implementing partners for this intervention are World Vision and a regional church organization: Vicariato de Cuevo. Some 2,700 families will benefit receive a total of 216 tonnes of aid through food for work and food for training. This will require US$14,000.

Due to the large number of affected people, as well as the long period of assistance (six months to one year), the Country Programme will not be able to provide victims with development resources. Eventually, an Emergency Operation will have to be considered, as well as local resource mobilisation.

FAO will support the assessment of crop seeds necessity.

WHO will provide technical assistance for the Health and Nutrition Plan, as well as for the Water Plan.

UNICEF's support accounts for some 300,000 Bolivian pesos for the Water Plan: restoration and improvement of the existing water systems, provision of safe water and elaboration of an implementation programme for water projects. UNICEF will also contribute to food for young children and the implementation of a nutritional survey.

Given the dimensions of the disaster, not only the government, but also cooperation agencies will need additional resources.

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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