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Wednesday, 1 August, 2001, 06:55 GMT 07:55 UK
UN plea for 'hungry' Central America
Failed maize crop
Natural disasters have blighted Central America
By Mike Lanchin in Central America

The United Nations World Food Programme has made a new appeal for urgent food aid for more than 750,000 Central Americans who are facing severe food shortages due to a prolonged drought across the region.

The absence of rain since late May has devastated basic grain crops in El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala, affecting up to 1.4 million poor farmers and their families, of whom only half are currently managing to resolve their immediate food needs.

Boy in mud of lake
Hundreds of thousands of families are at risk
In July the World Food Programme launched an international appeal for help, with the impending disaster faced by around a million smallholding farmers across the region.

Now, with the drought entering its third month, a top official at the organisation has said that the crop failures and the food shortages are more widespread and more serious than originally estimated.

Repeated disasters

The regional director for the World Food Programme, Francisco Castro, told the BBC that the mission had already begun sending food rations to destitute families in Nicaragua and Honduras, but he said there was not enough to go round.

Mr Castro said that the response from the international community to the initial call for help has been disappointing.

He partly blamed that on donor fatigue at the repeated natural disasters that have blighted the region.

Floods from Hurricane Mitch
First floods, now drought
Many of those most affected by the current droughts lost their crops back in 1997 when the El Nino weather phenomenon played havoc with the normal rainy season.

The following year Hurricane Mitch swept away homes and crops in the same areas of Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

Aid workers say that as well as immediate food, farmers will also need seed and credit facilities this month in order to plant a second crop of beans - part of the staple diet for Central Americans.

But that crop will not be harvested until late October, assuming that the rains have begun to fall by then.

See also:

22 Jul 01 | Media reports
Central America alarmed at crop failure
21 Jul 01 | Americas
Central America 'faces food crisis'
25 Jul 01 | Americas
Honduras declares drought emergency
12 Nov 98 | Americas
Hurricane effort hampered on ground
03 Dec 98 | Hurricane Mitch
Mitch: A path of destruction
15 Jan 01 | Americas
Desperate search for quake survivors
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