A new office dedicated to drought information collection and dissemination and identifying relief sources will be housed at Texas A&M International University.
The new Drought Relief Information Center was established by legislation authored by State Representative Henry Cuellar at the close of the last session. The Center, housed in the University's College of Business Administration's Pellegrino Hall, was opened in a ribbon-cutting and press conference Monday afternoon, April 20, 1998.
Joining University officials were Rep. Cuellar, Dr. Don Russell, Deputy Director of the Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEES) and members of local ranching and farming enterprises.
A&M International president Charles Jennett said the initiative will help to fill a void in available information about drought and possible avenues of assistance for those affected by it.
"The Drought Relief Information Center will develop and maintain a database on information and support available to drought victims, disseminate this information electronically, by Internet and by hard copy and assist drought victims in identifying and contacting relief sources to receive support. It's a service effort that will help those who draw their livelihoods from the South Texas landscape and those who benefit from their hard work," Jennett explained.
Rep. Cuellar praised the effort, noting that it will provide research and data accessibility not previously available to the area.
"This Drought Center will provide tremendous support to the ranchers and farmers of Webb County and surrounding counties. The money that has been appropriated for the Center is only the beginning. I intend to add additional funding in the next legislative session and look forward to working with president Jennett and the A&M System to secure additional funding, " Rep. Cuellar said.
Dr. Khosrow Fatemi, Dean of the College of Business Administration that will house the new Drought Relief Information Center, said the effort has the potential to become one of the University's most accessed databases.
"Much like our existing research units and databases for US-Mexico Trade Relations and the Institute for International Trade, this Center has tremendous potential to provide needed access to important information and assistance. We will be using an impressive information dissemination network which will include the Internet, toll-free telephone line, modem access and conventional mail delivery as well," Fatemi explained.
The need for such information and access is especially critical as Texas continues to experience record drought conditions statewide, organizers said.
A special economic report authored by John Sharp , Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, noted that severe and inevitable economic consequences of drought in Texas can "blister Texas' agricultural landscape." While it is normal for at least one region of the state to experience drought every year, the entire state has been suffering severe drought conditions since 1996.
In 1996, according to the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI), an index of meteorological drought that takes into account hydrologic factors such as precipitation, evaporation and soil moisture, all of the state's 10 climactic regions were In a stage of drought, ranging from moderate to extreme.
A study by Texas A&M University estimated that total agricultural value could fall as much as $2.4 billion unless the severity of the drought lessens. According to the 1996 report, it was projected producer losses at these levels could translate to a decline of about 0.5 percent of the expected gross state product of $527.2 billion. The report noted the effective was roughly equal to the December 1994 peso devaluation.
For more information on the Texas A&M International University Drought Relief Information Center, please contact the College of Business Administration at 326-2480.
University office hours are from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday - Friday.