A drought in the Isthmus region of Oaxaca that is being described as the worst in nearly 50 years has resulted in the loss so far of over 1,500 head of cattle, and residents fear the worst is yet to come.
The situation is so severe in 27 of the 42 municipalities in the region that the National Water Commission (Conagua) has issued a code red.
Three years without normal rainfall have left the water level in the reservoir behind the Benito Juárez dam at just 16%.
Ranchers say that since October they have lost over 1,500 head of cattle, which are worth between 15,000 and 20,000 pesos each, and more are dying every day due to lack of pasture and grains.
Fifty-one per cent of the cattle in the state of Oaxaca are raised in the Isthmus region, a percentage that amounts to an estimated 750,000 animals, said the president of the Regional Stockbreeders’ Union of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (UGRIT).
Of those, half are at risk of perishing from diseases related to malnourishment, said Jorge López Guerra.
Amadeo Rosales, a breeder from Santa María Ecatepec, told the newspaper El Universal that he had already lost 30 animals. They began dying in October, he said, the calves going first because the cows weren’t producing any milk.
“If it doesn’t rain before May things will worsen and we’ll be living a catastrophe,” said Rosales, while Cruz explained that only salt water can be obtained from still functioning wells.
Earlier this month the low levels at the Benito Juárez dam forced Conagua to close the floodgates. It also authorized local farmers and cattle breeders to dig 700 new wells, but the money needed for drilling is going toward saving cattle.
“To drill a well costs 30,000 pesos, but ranchers are investing in feed instead to save the cows that are about to have calves. That measure is not the solution, much more is needed,” said stockbreeders’ union president López.
Stockbreeders in the region lament that the federal insurance they have purchased does not cover mortality related to food deficiencies caused by the extreme drought. They also accuse local authorities of embezzling federal funds intended to help ranchers and farmers.
The president of the Juchitán ranchers association charged that more than 2,000 farmers and ranchers did not receive federal disaster funding because it was stolen by municipal authorities. Jorge Morgan accused the mayor of taking the money — 800 pesos was supposed to go to each beneficiary — and giving it to friends and family.
“It is regrettable that we didn’t receive what little money was sent, that it was embezzled and given to friends and family members of the municipal authorities . . . .” he said.
Morgan hopes that the municipality’s new administration will deliver the money to its intended recipients so they can buy feed and pay their workers.