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Weather extremes wreak havoc in Nicaragua, Cuba and Peru

PANAMA CITY - As freak weather in the form of severe flooding, snow storms and drought takes it toll on the poor in three Latin American countries, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is gearing up to respond to help protect the livelihoods of thousands of people.

In Nicaragua, where heavy rains and mudslides have already killed 25 people and affected more than 18,000, the Nicaraguan Government has declared 54 communities in the two autonomous Atlantic Regions, as well as the department of Matagalpa, disaster areas. With more than 2,000 acres of farm land and some 300 acres of forest destroyed, and dozens of schools and kilometres of roadway damaged, the Nicaraguan government has appealed to the international community to provide aid.

WFP will distribute emergency food rations for three months to 1,000 vulnerable families taking temporary shelter in Rio Blanco and Matiguás, and for 30 days to 500 families in Prinzapolka, in the department of Matalgalpa at the cost of approximately US$200,000.

"The regions hit by these storms are home to the poorest communities in Nicaragua and the loss of crops will only make matters worse in the coming months," said WFP's acting Regional Director, Philip Clarke.

"Ironically, while WFP is preparing to assist the victims of floods in one country, only 800 miles away, we are facing a completely different natural disaster, with drought destroying agriculture production in eastern parts of Cuba," added Clarke.

The eastern provinces of Las Tunas, Holguín, Granma, Guantánamo and Santiago de Cuba, along with the Camagüey province, are experiencing the worst drought in more than a decade and it is now extending to central Cuba.

According to WFP, the drought is affecting 85 percent of the population in the eastern provinces. With national water reservoir capacity now at just 39 percent, approximately 150,000 hectares of agricultural land have been abandoned due the lack of irrigation and rainfall. As early as May, authorities were reporting the loss of 76,000 cattle.

At the end of July, WFP will provide a one month food ration to more than 110,000 people - mostly pregnant and nursing women, children under two years of age, handicapped children and elderly persons - in the worst affected provinces of Holguín, Las Tunas and Camagüey. WFP plans to purchase the food locally at a cost of approximately US$ 160,000.

Meanwhile, the south-eastern department of Puno, Peru, is suffering from the worst frost and snowfalls in the last 30 years. With temperatures in July reaching as low as 26ºC to 35ºC in some districts, snow is now reported to be covering 80 percent of the ground in the highest elevations of the Andean region.

According to a WFP study, Puno is highly vulnerable to chronic malnutrition, affecting 79 to 91 percent of children under five years of age. This fragile situation is complicated by the fact that many subsistence farmers lost almost all of their crops from floods earlier in the year. The Ministry of Agriculture estimates that 39,000 hectares of crops were damaged, the equivalent of US$25 million worth of food, as well as 35,000 animals perished.

For the next three months, WFP will assist more than 15,000 people affected by the severe weather phenomena, the majority of whom are children under the age of five, or pregnant and lactating women.

"Of particular concern to us is the fact that the frequency of weather-induced food emergencies has increased dramatically in the last years," said Clarke. "Shifting weather patterns and the more frequent occurrence of extreme weather are destroying the fragile livelihoods of many of Latin America's poor and, in many cases; the only thing that will prevent even greater suffering and a much higher death toll is international assistance."

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency. In 2003 WFP fed nearly 110 million people in 82 countries including most of the world's refugees and internally displaced people.

WFP Global School Feeding Campaign -- As the largest provider of nutritious meals to poor school children, WFP has launched a global campaign aimed at ensuring the world's 300 million undernourished children are educated.

Brenda Barton
Deputy Director Communications
WFP/Rome
Tel: +39-06-65132602,

Rene McGuffin
WFP/Rome
Tel: +39-06-65132430

Simon Pluess
WFP/Geneva
Tel: +41-22-9178564

Jordan Dey
WFP/Washington
Tel: +1-202-6530010
Cell: +1- 202-4223383

Trevor Rowe
WFP/NY
Tel: +1-212-9635196

Alejandro Chicheri
WFP/Latin America and the Caribbean
Tel: +507 3173900
Cell +507 6750617