News reports from Guatemala City quoted Coordinator of Food Assistance of the Agriculture Ministry (MAGA) Alex Gonzalez as telling local radio that the local population is receiving food in exchange for work to relieve sufferings from famine, caused mainly by a severe drought and a drop in coffee prices in the international market.
The aid consists of beans, vegetable oil and other staple products.
Because of famine in Camotan and Jocotan in the eastern state of Chiquimula, Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo announced on Monday a 30-day state of emergency there.
"There is marked poverty because crops were lost due to the irregularity of rains and the population needs integral assistance, " Gonzalez said.
A report of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released on Monday indicates that since June rainfall has diminished in Guatemala by 60 percent as compared to the normal level for the month.
The drought caused the loss of 80 percent of the bean and corn production.
According to the WFP, the current drought, which is affecting 80,000 people in El Salvador, over 247,000 in Nicaragua, 70,000 in Honduras and 63,000 in Guatemala, is the worst natural disaster Central America has faced since 1998's hurricane Mitch.
On July 30, the WFP said that some 610,000 people in Central America could suffer from food scarcity caused by crop failures, and the number of the affected could reach one million. It has estimated that 16,500 tons of food will be needed to meet the region's demand.
The drop in the price of coffee, the main crop in the region, has also contributed to poverty in these areas, as the price decline has caused curtailed agricultural work.
In addition to the WFP, Gonzalez said many institutions, including the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Nutrition Institute of Central America and Panama (INCAP), are preparing a diagnosis on the degree of undernourishment in Camotan, Jocotan and other poverty-ridden regions.
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Received by NewsEdge Insight: 09/04/2001 21:49:34