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Drought sounds alarm, instigates hunger fears for indigenous Guyana

GEORGETOWN, Guyana--Thousands of indigenous people near Guyana's border with Brazil are battling drought so persistent they fear crop failure and hunger.

Shirley Melville, a former legislator in Lethem, said Sunday that her family's well and many more in the town near northern Brazil have dried up because there has been no rainfall for at least seven months.

“This is the first time in 40 years that my well has dried up. I even dug another one — and that, too, is dry,” she told AFP.

A council was this week to assess the water shortage in the township where residents rely on Brazil for drinking water because Guyana's state-owned water company supplies poor quality treated water.

Guyana, a former British colony just east of Venezuela, lies on South America's northeastern shoulder.

Its population of about 735,000 includes mostly descendants of Indian indentured workers and blacks, but also many indigenous people near the Brazilian border.

Wells Dry

Residents of other parts of the sprawling Rupununi region, predominantly populated by indigenous people, said their mainstay cassava (manioc) farms have dried up — scorched by the hot sun. And planting vegetables is impossible in those conditions.

Annai village community activist Virgil Harding said most wells in his 16 other communities in North Rupununi have also gone dry.

Residents all have to go to the Rupununi River for untreated water for domestic use, he said. And in time of drought, river volumes may be lower and have higher concentrations of particles.

The top indigenous affairs authority said the government was aware of the situation and working on contingency plans.

Amerindian Affairs Chief Administrator Nigel Dharamlall said in an interview that the government was prepared to rush emergency supplies of food to cope with a potentially devastating drought, as well as planting materials when it does finally rain.

Watch for Shortages

“If there are shortages, the government will provide supplies as we have done before and when the time comes, we will provide planting materials as soon as the rain comes,” Dharamlall said.

Forecasters are blaming the drought on the El Nino weather phenomenon, when warmer than usual water stretches across the surface of eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, about every three to seven years.

The warmer water influences climate patterns in many places around the world.

The Agriculture Ministry has set up a special task force on the ongoing impact of El Nino.

“The Ministry of Agriculture has established a Special El Nino Working group to monitor and plan actions to reduce any adverse impact of a possible El Nino on agriculture production,” it said.

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