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Worst drought in decades is threatening crisis in Central America's food supply, experts warn

GUATEMALA CITY - Central America is having one of its worst droughts in decades, and experts warned Thursday that major farm losses and the deaths of hundreds of cattle in the region could leave hundreds of thousands of families without food.

The agricultural losses are largely in corn and beans, basic staples of the region's diet, the United Nations' World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization said in a joint statement.

"The impact of the prolonged heat wave is having on nutrition and food security in parts of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua is very worrisome," the agencies said.

The food agencies said the situation needs to be addressed immediately or what is already a food crisis could worsen in the coming months.

In Guatemala, about 170,000 families lost almost all of their crops, while in El Salvador crops have completely been lost in two-thirds of the country.

In Nicaragua, where the drought has killed more than 2,500 cattle and left 600,000 people in a state of malnutrition, the government is asking international food agencies to help it feed 100,000 families in parched areas.

Nicaragua's Institute of Territorial Studies says it is the worst drought since 1976. Prices for corn and beans have quadrupled since May In the country of 5.9 million people.

"There are communities that have no water to drink because of the drought, much less to grow food. We're letting poor people die of hunger. There isn't (food) production or assistance," said the Rev. Elias Barrera, director in Nicaragua for the Roman Catholic charity organization Caritas.

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