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Chile's drought devastates ranchers, farmers

PUTAENDO, Chile — Alfredo Estay stands amid a dwindling herd of cattle, near a dying calf and a malnourished cow unable to stand on its feet due to Chile’s worst drought in more than half a century.

From the region of Coquimbo in the north of Chile to Maule in the south, more than 30,000 head of livestock have died of hunger or thirst, and crops have been lost for lack of rain, according to the agriculture ministry.

Estay has been left with just 80 cows and a handful of calves out of the 180 he had before the drought bit.

“I don’t count them because every day there’s a death,” he said. “I can’t take any more. I don’t have anything to feed them, so the best thing would be to take them to the (barren) mountains so they die there (faster),’ said Estay, who lives in Putaendo, about 110 kilometres (65 miles) northwest of Santiago, the capital. His 5-acre (2 hectare) peach orchard is barren as well.

His neighbour, Aníbal Henríquez, said he had lost 80 of his 150 cows.

“There have been bad years, but it rained a little and grass grew,” he said. “Not now.”

Freddy Moreno, spokesman for the local ranchers’ association, said only 37 millimeters (1.46 inches) of rain has fallen this year in an area that normally receives 130 to 180 millimeters.

The drought also has affected fruit and grain producers in the south and beekeepers in the centre of the country.

Drought struck hard last year in neighbouring Argentina, and scarcity of rain has been blamed for aggravating vast fires buring across forests and croplands.

Eva Vergara, The Associated Press