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Brazil takes urgent steps to fight drought
June 15, 2013, 1:54 am

President Dilma Rousseff has implemented a number of policies and strategies to offset effects of the drought [Getty images]

President Rousseff has implemented a number of policies and strategies to offset effects of the drought [Getty images]

Brazil’s government has taken emergency measures to ease the worst drought in over 50 years that is plaguing its northeastern region, where the country’s poorest population lives.

The drought is affecting more than 1,400 municipalities with about 22 million people, or over 10 per cent of the country’s population, in an area that accounts for 16 per cent of the Brazilian territory, according to official figures.

The semiarid region covers the Brazilian states of Alagoas, Bahia, Ceara, Paraiba, Pernambuco, Piaui, Rio Grande do Norte and Sergipe, as well as the northern part of Minas Gerais.

Commonly, the annual cycle in the region includes seven to eight months of drought and three to five months of rain, but the lack of rains in the last two years has led to an alert situation.

Land Development Minister Pepe Vargas said that several policies were implemented to ease the serious situation and protect farmers from extreme conditions.

“Compared to what happened in the past, during the current drought we have not seen immigrants, something new in Brazil. Also, infant mortality has not increased. The problem now is the agriculture losses,” with measures, such as Bolsa Familiar (a family allowance plan), public works for water security and installing cisterns for rainwater accumulation, taken by the government, Vargas said.

Another factor that eases the situation is the transpose project of San Francisco river to carry water to Sertao, as the semiarid region is known, and this work is not finished yet but has favored farmers in several towns, the minister said.

In the past, drought caused the migration of thousands of farmers who suffered significant losses, leading also to plunder and land occupation.

Historically, Vargas said, droughts have led to political exploitation by the regional elites, who took advantage of it to keep their dominance.

Therefore, the government decided that the Brazilian Army holds the water-supply task. Through water-tank vehicles, the army delivers water in the region to guarantee human consumption needs.

The government has defined several infrastructure actions such as dams and canals building, and some emergency actions such as water supply for human consumption and providing special credit with payments suspended until 2016 or big discounts if paid on time, the minister said.

President Dilma Rousseff has vowed that the government’s actions to ease the current drought would  continue till the end of the adverse weather conditions.

“The government will announce a restructuring plan for the semiarid region’s family agriculture after the drought is overcome. We are planning actions to increase the stored water for production, and more family loans to recompose livestock,” among others, said Vargas.

By Edgardo Luguercio for Xinhua