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Saturday, May 22, 1999 Published at 05:42 GMT 06:42 UK

World: Americas

Drought disaster hits Mexico

Emergency aid of $400m has already been granted

By Mexico Correspondent Peter Greste

At least five states in Mexico's northwest say they are on the verge of disaster following the worst drought in living memory.

Peter Greste in Mexico: "Some areas haven't seen a drop of rain since last August."
On Thursday the Mexican Government formally declared five other states disaster zones and began sending emergency aid.

The states warned that not only are the crops suffering, but there is a serious danger that bushfires could devastate large areas.

Droughts are nothing new in northern Mexico; almost every summer the wells and reservoirs run down and farmers struggle to find enough water for their crops and livestock. But this year is different.

Emergency fund

Cattlemen across the vast northern frontier say they have never known it so dry. Some parts of the region have not seen a drop of rain since last August.

The reservoir that feeds the capital of Sinaloa state is completely dry, while the Interior Ministry estimates most other dams are between 13% and 20% of their capacity.

The Mexican Government has already given five states in the northwest access to an emergency fund of almost $400m after declaring their disaster zones.

Bushfires fear

Now at least five other states say they are weeks away from being in the same position. If they too were declared disaster zones it would stretch the emergency pot and place a vast swathe of agriculture in crisis.

Together, those states stretch across the border with the United States and cover well over half of Mexico's land mass. But it is not just farming that is in danger.

Even supplies of drinking water are dangerously low and the dry spell has turned the region into a vast tinderbox. Government officials say they are deeply worried about the prospect of bushfires.

Unless we get rain soon, one told me, there will not be much left apart from dust.

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