Central America issues alert as severe drought hits agriculture

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) - Central American and Caribbean governments on Thursday issued an official alert as severe drought in the region damages the crops of some 1.6 million people. As part of the step, governments from the farming-dependent region pledged to help afflicted families and coordinate international relief efforts to deal with the drought, the cost of which is still being calculated. "Agreement has been reached to declare an agricultural alert across all of Central America and the Caribbean, not just to ... take preventive steps for what follows, but also raise international awareness and seek cooperation," Orestes Ortez, El Salvador's Agriculture Minister, told reporters. Officials from Central American governments and the Dominican Republic took part in a meeting on the drought in El Salvador. Last week, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said nearly 1 million people in Guatemala alone are struggling to feed themselves due to drought and poor harvests. Central American coffee farmers have already been hit hard by a deadly fungus known as roya in the past two seasons. (Reporting by Nelson Renteria; Editing by Joseph Radford)