Swiss army airlifts water to thirsty cows in drought-hit pastures

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ROSSINIERE, Switzerland - (Reuters) - Swiss army helicopters began airlifting water on Tuesday to thousands of thirsty cows who are suffering in a drought and heatwave that has hit much of Europe.

Large red plastic containers hung from the bottom of the Super Puma helicopters carried the water to farms in the Jura Mountains and Alpine foothills.

Some 40,000 cows graze in the summertime in high-altitude pastures in Vaud canton (state) in western Switzerland and each needs up to 150 liters (40 gallons) of water a day, authorities said.

Two large basins have been filled with water to allow farmers with land accessible by road to fill up their tank trucks, they said.

Several dozen farmers have called a special hotline to request help from the helicopters since the emergency operation was announced last Friday.

“I’ve been renting this pasture for 13 years now. We had to airlift water sometimes but never that much,” Gregoire Martin, who runs a farm with 68 cows and 90 head of young cattle at Le Culand pasture in Rossiniere, told Reuters Television.

“We already used the army’s helicopter two years ago but in the long term we cannot go on like this,” he said.

Switzerland will cut import tariffs on livestock feed and offer interest-free loans to help farmers deal with the drought, the federal government said on Monday, amid a heat wave that is killing off fish in the Rhine.

“The situation is very worrying because Switzerland has not known a drought like that ... since 1921,” said Philippe Leuba, head of economy and sport for Vaud, who attended Tuesday’s operation.

Additional reporting by Denis Balibouse; Writing by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg