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Tuesday, 14 August, 2001, 14:51 GMT 15:51 UK
Sri Lanka drought action urged
Sri Lanka street scene
The drought is areas worst for 50 years
By Frances Harrison in Colombo

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has launched an appeal for emergency funds to help 300,000 people in southern Sri Lanka affected by prolonged drought.

The Red Cross is asking for $700,000 to support the worst affected farmers, whose families no longer have enough to eat.

One survey has already found a high level of malnutrition among children in the area, thought to be linked to the crisis.

The Red Cross says there has been no rain for nearly two years in Hambantota, a normally lush green agricultural region at the southern tip of Sri Lanka.

Local people say the rain pattern has changed dramatically in the last five years and this is the worst drought they remember for half a century.

Changed landscape

Aid workers who have visited the area say the tropical landscape has turned grey and dry, with not even a leaf visible in some places to feed livestock.

Sri Lanka
Local people say weather patterns have changed recently
All the wells and reservoirs in four villages have completely dried up, and many more wells and small lakes are in the process of disappearing.

Thousands of people are now reliant on tankers to bring in drinking water.

One charity working in the area, World Vision, said the food situation was now very critical. A survey they conducted jointly with the government found that 30% of children under five years old are now malnourished.

They believe there is a direct link between the ongoing drought and malnutrition and have, like the government, been running food for work programmes for some months.

Hungry children

World Vision also say attendance at some schools has dropped by up to a quarter because children are too hungry to concentrate on their classes.

Even if the next monsoon rains do come towards the end of this year, farmers will not get a harvest until well into next year and they are already in debt after the loss of four successive crops.

Now the Red Cross is launching an international appeal for money to feed nearly 40,000 of the worst affected people for the next six months.

The federation says this is a slow onset disaster in a forgotten corner of Sri Lanka, but they are hoping it will catch the attention of donor governments and Red Cross societies around the world.

See also:

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22 Mar 01 | Europe
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13 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
Water arithmetic 'doesn't add up'
15 Mar 00 | Middle East
Water wars: Part l - The Middle East
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Water wars and peace
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