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Page last updated at 21:38 GMT, Thursday, 14 July 2005 22:38 UK

Portuguese drought hits farmers

By Tom Heap
BBC News, Elvas, Portugal

A farmer and his sheeps near Nossa Senhora da Cola, Alentejo, 300km south of Lisbon
No rain means no crops and no feed for livestock
When water is scarce, it is funny what still gets it.

In the town of Elvas, in the middle of Portugal, the person in charge of planting the central reservations must have some clout.

Outside our hotel, the small grass triangle dividing the entry and exit slip roads from the roundabout was being liberally sprinkled.

It was drenched and the water was running off down the road.

Outside town virtually everything was brittle brown. We spied one coffee factory surrounded by green but that turned out to be paint.

The trees lining the roads were beginning to die back - when drought bites at the deep rooted trees you know it is serious.

Rainless spring

Luis Machado runs a herd of 150 or so beef cattle here.

They ran out of any food months ago - nothing grows on the fields.

They are turning into dry mud and dust. He could cope with that - given money - by buying in expensive animal feed.

But now the waterholes have dried too and he will have to move them or sell them, otherwise they would die.

But it is not the summer that is causing this problem.

Sure, the vertical sun and 40C (104F) heat do not help but they are normal in Portugal.

It is the fact that it barely rained at all in the winter and spring.

Back in his office in Lisbon, Rui Rodrigues studies computer maps of his country, each a different shade of livid red.

He is head of water resources for the Portuguese Water Institute, Inag, but he has never known a year like this.

It is their worst drought since records began at least 150 years ago.

They will keep the water running for most residents and tourists but at the cost of increasing tanker deliveries.

No green meals

Some 22,000 homes are already dependent on these lorries.

They queue up at fire hydrants in the towns still lucky enough to have a supply and drive it across country to village holding tanks.

When they return in two hours later its empty. They the work from 0500 till 2000 every day.

Outside Ourique, a town in the south towards the Algarve, an unusual sight halts our drive - a goat a good way up a tree and climbing higher to reach leaves. It is the only green meal around.

We talk to the farmer, who looks at the bare earth and the beating sun and shrugs before pulling us over to see a cow eating a bush.

The farmer is approaching 70, he has lived here all his life and he has never seen a cow eat that bush.



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