Brazilian government pledges $14 million to fight Amazon drought

Brazil's government has pledged $14 million (Ђ11.73 million) for relief efforts in the Amazon River basin, an area ravaged by the worst drought in decades.

A decline in rainfall since January has lowered the main trunk of the Amazon by some two 2 meters (6.6 feet) from its average water depth of 17 meters (55.8 feet). AMany tributaries have dried out almost entirely in a region where waterways often provide the only means of transport.

River beds are filled with dead fish and rotting river grass, making the water undrinkable once waters begin to rise, said Hiel Levy, a spokesman for the Amazonas state government.

"The most worrisome thing at this moment is the potential for drinking water to be contaminated when the rivers rise," National Integration Minister Ciro Gomes said Tuesday in Brasilia, the nation's capital, announcing the government allocation. "This is the worst drought in over 50 years."

Gomes did not specify how the money would be spent. Brazil's government was sending 18 tons of water purification tablets and 100,000 basic food baskets to help the 167,000 people affected by the drought.

Military transport planes and helicopters have been busy distributing food and medical supplies to 28 of the state's 61 municipalities since Saturday, when Amazonas Gov. Eduardo Braga declared a state of emergency across the state.

Levy said that rains in some areas were helping raise the levels of some tributaries, but the situation was not expected to improve for at least 40 days.

Carlos Rittl, coordinator of Greenpeace's campaign on climate change, said that regardless of the rains, the rivers traditionally only reach their lowest levels at the end of October.

"The locals depend on the river for their drinking water, and as the rivers dry out they won't only have to walk further and further for their water, the water they'll find will be dirtier," Rittl said by telephone from Manaus, the capital of Amazonas state, AP reported. V.A.

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