January 23, 2001

Government to declare half of Bolivia disaster area

                  LA PAZ, Bolivia (Reuters) -- Bolivia's lower house passed a bill on Tuesday to
                  declare almost half the country a natural disaster zone, a move which will free up
                  aid and funds for some 20,000 people affected by almost a month of heavy rain.

                  Once the government signs the bill, the departments of La Paz, Oruro, Beni and
                  Cochabamba will be officially declared natural disaster areas and open to
                  millions of dollars in federal relief funds.

                  The Andean country's national weather service estimates some 6.7 gallons (25
                  liters) of water per 1.2 square yards (1 square meter) have rained down on
                  average per day the past weeks in La Paz, the worst affected area, and expects
                  the rains to continue.

                  The first two months of the year are usually the rainy seasons in this landlocked South American
                  country which is twice the size of France.

                  Bolivia's Civil Defense agency reported two dead from flooding and that some 20,000 people in the
                  country of 8 million had been seriously affected -- many left homeless -- by the flooding.

                  The Civil Defense added that it had already asked international organizations like
                  the Red Cross and World Health Organization for help.

                  About 140 miles (230 km) south of La Paz in Oruro, the Paria and Tagarete
                  rivers overflowed and flooded four towns, destroying dozens of government
                  built housing for former mine workers.

                  At least four towns in Beni, near Bolivia's Amazon region, have also flooded due
                  to overflowing rivers.

                      Copyright 2001 Reuters.