Following weeks of farmers' demands for emergency support, Uruguay's Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries finally admitted the seriousness of the drought for the farming industry and the country's main source of exports.
"The hydro deficit situation until December was one, but now it has changed and we can describe it as very serious for the production system", said Minister Ernesto Agazzi in a much publicized interview in a Sunday newspaper. "This is very serious for livestock, for food production, for farmers' families and serious looking ahead because the lack of (natural) pastures?will make it longer to recover what the climate is destroying", admitted Agazzi. He insisted that this first week of 2009 was a "hinge week" with a qualitative change, since the forecasted rains did not occur. However he said that recent measures adopted by the government were "adequate" to the December scenario when the drought was concentrated in the south of the country and rain records in the north "were close to normal". But the situation has become particularly serious and difficult for those provinces which have a significant dairy and fruit production. Agazzi said the government's efforts would concentrate on those 32.000 families, who live off the land, "are not business organizations, they are families that when they go broke migrate to the cities". The government financed daily La Republica reported on Sunday that next Tuesday the Operational Group from the National Emergency System would be meeting to address the situation and most probable will declare "emergency zones" where the lack of rains has been most intense. According to the Uruguayan Meteorological Office rainfall in Uruguay during 2008 was 750 millimetres, below the historic average of 1000 to 1200 mm. For weeks farmers' organizations had been complaining bitterly about the situation and warning about lost crops and dead livestock but the government refused to accept the situation as "exceptional". Summer crops in some areas have not been planted because of lack of humidity in the soil, milk production is down and livestock have died in overcrowded paddocks for the available food and water situation. Uruguay is also suffering from a scourge of forest and bush fires, mostly along the Atlantic coastline which at this time of the year is crowded with summer vacationers. The barbecue tradition of cooking on embers and in many cases careless proprietors or campers have caused a bout of fires which have the Fire Department, local public works departments heavy machinery, Army soldiers and helicopters working 24 hours. The extremely hot weather and strong winds have not helped. Dozens of summer houses have been razed to the ground and at least one volunteer died of a heart condition.