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Drought causes widespread pain

BY SUSAN KIM | HARRISBURG | August 6, 1999

HARRISBURG (Aug. 6, 1999) -- Even with federal and state disaster

declarations, water restrictions, and farm relief packages under

consideration across the entire eastern U.S., people into

drought-stricken areas are increasingly worried about their future.

Farmers using the last of their hay are wondering how they'll feed

their livestock this winter. Residents of Appalachian regions -- many

of whom are already receiving federal assistance to pay summer

utility bills -- are anxiously watching their well level drop.

Business people -- car washes, white water rafting companies, grain

elevators -- are considering shutting down.

Since the drought is so widespread, and the affect on communities so

different, planning a response has been challenging for emergency

management teams and faith-based organizations alike.

Norm Smith, who coordinates voluntary agencies through the

Pennsylvania Office of Emergency Response, said that, while one

family's well may be going dry, those not on well water could be

unaffected if their water purveyor has enough.

"It's an anomaly. Things can look just fine on the surface, so even

though it's on the front page of every newspaper, it's still hard for

many people to believe the severity of this drought," he said. "But

farmers, for example, are really suffering right now."

On farms throughout the mid-Atlantic states, grazing pastures are

brown and corn crops shrunken. Farmers are feeding their winter store

of hay to livestock. "Going into the winter, this will hurt quite a

bit," said Stephen Heatwole, a pastor at the Springs Mennonite Church

in Salisbury, Penn. who also chaired an interfaith committee that

responded to tornadoes in that community last year.

In western Pennsylvania, tourist-based businesses that offer white

water rafting and other river recreation are shutting down. "That

means we will lose about one million visitors this year, and that's

going to really hurt the local economy," said Shirley Norman,

disaster resource facilitator for Church World Service (CWS).

Deborah McCauley, a CWS disaster resource consultant based in New

Jersey, added that, while suburbs may face water restrictions that

don't significantly alter daily life, rural communities are

devastated. "I just got back from a nine-day trip to Kentucky," she

said. "They're facing an entirely different situation there."

Don Vandrey, spokesperson for the Maryland Department of Agriculture,

said he would like to see suburban and urban churches link up with

their rural counterparts to organize a drought response. "I think,

for example, you may find families losing their livestock because of

a hay shortage," he said. "So a role that churches could play is to

donate transportation to the local or state hay network."

Although state and federal assistance will likely meet farmers'

immediate needs of feed and water for livestock, faith-based groups

will have a role in long-term response, he said.

"There will be families forced off their farms by this," he said.

"And we're seriously concerned about the rising suicide rate among

farmers. The entire community can reach out."

Bob Arnold, associate director of the CWS emergency response program,

agreed that much of the faith-based response could occur at a local

level. "We are, however, conducting a needs assessment and making

contact with agriculture departments to find out about unmet needs,"

he said.

At least one nationwide response has already been initiated by Farm

Aid. Country music star Willie Nelson has reactivated that

organization's Disaster Fund in response to the drought. A benefit

concert has been planned in Prince William County, Va. Scheduled

artists include Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young, Dave Matthews

Band, Trisha Yearwood, Sawyer Brown, Steve Earle, and Susan Tedeschi.

Farm Aid, working with local farm groups, churches, and rural

organizations to help meet needs of drought-stricken farmers, has

already granted $20,000 to the Virginia Council of Churches to help

farmers in that state. The aid will include emergency funds for farm

families, haylifts to help farmers feed livestock, and distribution

of federal emergency assistance guides.

Although Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey, and Rhode Island were hit

hardest by the drought, the dry spell has also caused problems for

farmers and communities in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Iowa,

Wisconsin, Ohio, North Carolina, and New York, as well as the New

England states.

Echoing many governors who are making appeals for federal aid,

Connecticut Governor John Rowland said that half of his state's

farmers -- particularly vegetable farmers -- could lose their crops.

Similarly, farmers in southeastern Wisconsin report they've lost 50

percent of the corn crop. In New Jersey, more than 7,000 family farms

have reported crop losses. Many states are planning educational

programs to provide information to farmers about the resources

available to them.

Many localities have also have imposed mandatory water restrictions

such as not watering lawns, watering gardens only using watering cans

and buckets or a handheld hose, not washing vehicles or paved

surfaces, not filling or topping off swimming pools, and not

operating ornamental fountains.

Congress, considering a farm aid package, will likely add a disaster

relief component to help offset drought-related crop loss. The

drought is hitting many farmers just when commodity prices have

dropped sharply. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman has urged

Congress to include aid for drought-stricken farmers as well as

livestock producers.

Posted Aug. 6, 1999


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