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Monday, July 13, 1998 Published at 12:49 GMT 13:49 UK

World: Americas

Cuba hit by drought

The east of the island has been hardest hit

A drought caused by the El Niño weather phenomenon has seriously affected Cuba's crops and food supply, officials have said.

Reports say that rainfall in the east of the country is at its lowest level for more than four decades and some homes are now relying on water being delivered by truck.

State-run television has been showing pictures from the region of dried up fields of beans, rice and root vegetables.

But the government's severe shortage of hard currency is restricting its ability to import food to make up for the shortfalls in farm production.

United Nations officials have been touring the areas worst affected to assess the need for international help.

Jessica Faieta of the UN Development Programme in Havana said: "There are clear indications that El Niño has affected crops and agriculture in general, especially in the eastern provinces."

In particular, the drought has harmed Cuba's efforts to halt a decline in its sugar crop.

Sugar production has dropped steadily in recent years, from over 7 million tonnes in 1989 to about 3 million in the recently completed harvest.

In some regions, as much as 14% of sugar cane planted last year was lost because of the drought.

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