Peasants of Paraguayan Chaco region defenseless against drought

Pozo Hondo, Paraguay, Sep 16 (EFE).- The Chaco region in northwestern Paraguay is suffering a fierce drought that is affecting more than 10,000 families, mostly Indians and peasants.

The sparsely populated region alternates periods of absolute dry spells, which leave tens of thousands of people without water for their crops, with devastating floods.

These climatic cycles oblige Paraguayan authorities to provide almost permanent assistance to a large part of the population, aside from the handful of wealthy ranchers and soy barons.

Cactus and dried-up trees, suffocating heat, mosquitoes and dust flying in the hot winds are characteristics of this environment where 5,000 people currently need aid, according to the operations director of Paraguay's SEN emergency management agency, Aldo Saldivar.

SEN has been working for two months on the shipping and distribution of water, but last week the situation turned critical. In seven days the agency carried 1.6 million liters (420,000 gallons) to the region since there were no reserves left - but just three days later almost the same amount was needed again.

Paraguay's Senate declared an emergency last week in the provinces of Presidente Hayes, Boqueron and Alto Paraguay, so that over the next 90 days they may receive government aid.

Community leader Martin Carrera, who runs a school in San Agustin, Boqueron, described the situation to Efe as "difficult and worrying."

The main worry in this small community of some 400 inhabitants is that no water is left in the ponds where their animals drink, leaving inhabitants in a state of dependency since most of them raise livestock for a living.

"To extract water we need fuel, because some of our generators aren't working, but that takes money and we don't have the money even for that," Carrera said.