From: Associated Press
Published March 22, 2004 12:00 AM

Rare Drought Hits Brazil's Southern Breadbasket, Damaging Crops

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — A rare drought has hit southern Brazil, forcing hundreds of towns to declare an emergency and destroying billions of dollars (reals) of crops in the country's traditional breadbasket, officials said Monday.


With no rain since December, 440 cities and towns have declared a state of emergency in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil's southernmost state and a major producer of wheat, soy beans, corn, grapes and beef.


"The economic damage is irreversible. Even if it starts to rain now, it's too late to harvest before winter comes," Maj. Gilberto Lippert of the Rio Grande do Sul civil defense department said by telephone from Porto Alegre, 700 miles (1,100 kilometers) south of Rio de Janeiro.


Winter in the southern hemisphere is from June to September. Rio Grande do Sul is in a temperate region of Brazil, where winters usually cause frost and sometimes even snow.


Lippert said the northern part of the state was the region worst hit by drought. Sparse rainfall also hurt agriculture in the southern states of Santa Catarina, Parana and Mato Grosso do Sul.


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Water was rationed for some 2 million people, and a state of emergency was declared in at least 590 municipalities across the region.


Reports in the local media estimate crop losses may rise as high as 7.5 billion reals (US$2.7 billion. Lippert said it was too early to estimate the possible impact of the drought.


Civil defense workers were sent to various areas to drill wells, deliver water by trucks and distribute sodium chloride pills to purify the available water.


"We've had droughts before, but never anything this aggressive," said Lippert.


Lippert said many residents feared that the drought was caused by changing weather patterns. He said the government was preparing for future droughts by building cisterns and reservoirs around the state.


"We've never had a tradition of storing water. We've always let it run off into the rivers," he said. "Now it looks like we'll have to develop ways to store it."


Source: Associated Press


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