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Tuesday, September 1, 1998 Published at 23:43 GMT 00:43 UK

World: Americas

Cuba drought aid appeal

The UN says there is an urgent need for basic commodities

The United Nations is making an urgent appeal for aid to ease the effects of drought in Cuba.

UN correspondent Rob Watson: "The appeal has already caused controversy in Washington"
The UN World Food Programme is asking for $20.5m to pay for basic foods, such as rice, beans and cooking oil.

The UN intends to focus its efforts on the most vulnerable, including pregnant women, young children, the disabled and the elderly.

Launching the drive for funds, the head of the world food programme, Catherine Bertini, said the appeal was being made on purely humanitarian grounds.

She said the Cuban people needed help as soon as possible.

She warned the situation was worsening and the country faced a serious shortfall of food.

She said without international aid the population faced malnutrition and increasing susceptibility to illness.

The UN feels the drought in Cuba has been largely ignored by the outside world and that it is now time to change that.

El Nino blamed

The two-year drought is being blamed on the El Nino weather phenomenon and is estimated to have caused more than $270m in losses to crops and livestock.

The appeal has already caused controversy in Washington.

Two Cuban-American representatives to Congress have said they oppose in the strongest possible terms any US aid, including food assistance, to what they describe as the Castro dictatorship.

At the same time, Cuban diplomats at the UN have said the most useful move the Clinton administration could make would be to lift what they call the immoral US blockade of the island.

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