A">GUATEMALA (10 June)


Unusually high temperatures and dry weather conditions attributed to El Niño still persist over most of the country, contributing to widespread forest fires which have been partly initiated by small farmers’ land clearance activities. The situation has been compounded by the volcano eruption near the capital which has worsened the quality of the air and caused respiratory problems and other ailments. A state of emergency has been declared in various cities, including the capital, and preventive health measures taken for the protection of the population. Some recent light rains helped extinguish some of the worst fires that were seriously expanding particularly in the northern parts of the country. The damage incurred is reported to be significant, with about 65 000 hectares of forest areas burned down and another 155 000 hectares affected. Planting of the 1998/99 first season cereal crops has been delayed because of the late arrival of the rainy season, but farmers’ expectations are that the recent rains could indicate the definite arrival of the normal rains. Intended plantings of maize, the main cereal, are forecast to recover from last year’s drought affected crop. Important cash crops, such as sugar cane and coffee, are reported to be damaged by the prolonged dry weather. Food assistance is still distributed to the affected rural population and is expected to continue until the first harvest this year.