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South Africa Announces Drought Emergency Measures - 2003-12-24


The South African government has announced immediate emergency measures in response to worsening drought conditions in the country.

The government says it has already allocated $35 million in emergency assistance to maintain water supplies for human and livestock consumption. Much of this relief has been directed to rural dwellers and agriculture.

Department of Water Affairs spokesman Mike Miller says the government is also working on measures to protect the jobs of farm workers. About 10 percent of the country's farmers face financial ruin, and Mr. Miller says this could translate into job losses for 100,000 farm workers.

He said if this occurs, the ripple effect would be enormous. It is widely accepted that each farm worker in South Africa supports at least five dependents.

The government says it is highly probable that yields of corn, known locally as maize, as well as sunflower, soybeans, and sugar cane will be greatly reduced this season. Other crops, such as fruit and vegetables, are also affected. Traditionally, South Africa exports summer fruits and vegetables to Europe, earning valuable hard currency.

About 30,000 cattle have been lost this season - mostly in the herds of subsistence farmers. Under the relief program, many of these farmers will receive fodder supplies. The plan also provides for supplies of water for stock and the development and maintenance of emergency water wells.

If necessary, the relief plan may be extended to larger towns and cities.

Some rains have fallen in the stricken areas in the past day, but the South African Weather Service says it was not enough and that prospects for further rain are slim.

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