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Aid is reaching needy says relief agencies

BY OE PAPPALARDOHONDURAS | Honduras | November 14, 1998

Honduras (Nov. 14, 1998) -- As aid pours into Mitch-ravaged Honduras,

fears that distribution of the supplies would be hampered by the military

have been eased, according to aid workers in Central America.

According to Christian Commission for Development (CCD) Executive President

Noemi Espinoza, although minor problems had occurred,

non-government organizations were being allowed to bring in relief supplies

without government interference.

She added that the administration of President Carlos Flores was responding

rapidly to complaints of theft or misuse of aid.

Paul Jeffrey, of the CCD in Honduras said the civilian government was doing

a good job of keeping on top of military forces, which had a bad

reputation in previous disasters.

In 1974 Hurricane Fifi killed 8,000 people in Honduras, and during the

aftermath accusations of military theft of aid resources rose from

opposition parties and international observers.

Getting aid to parts of the hurricane-ravaged country is hard enough

without feeling the hampering effects of government corruption. Hundreds of

villages in Honduras are still inaccessible, even by foot.

On Wednesday one ton of emergency food provided by CCD was taken by

army helicopter to San Miguelito, a village in the south of the department

of Francisco Morazan that still remains isolated.

Jeffery said that once supplies arrive, distribution is organized on the

local level. "There is no central control. Organization is de facto at a

more local level. There's been real good coordination between agencies," he

said. "We sort of divide up the turf, so that you don't have three NGO's

(non-government organizations) in one village while three (villages) nearby

have nothing."

Clean water, food and dry shelter are the immediate priorities. The

Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) is distributing through

Nicaragua, 420 tons of a corn and soy blend cereal and 98 tons of

vegetable oil, enough food for 57,000 people for one month.

The population of some isolated areas are being evacuated as it becomes

clear that no help can reach them. The Honduran Air Force has been

airlifting isolated populations to centralized shelters, and several Latin

American countries have pledged donations of helicopters for the relief

effort.

Long-term strategies for dealing with the hurricane are already being

considered, even as emergency conditions must be met.

Enamorado said the permanent Honduran mission to the United Nations has

already began an agenda to keep the world informed of the conditions in

Central America.

"We plan on keep people updated. After one month nobody hears about (the

conditions) and people stop helping," he said "It will take 40 to 50 years

to rebuild. It's not a matter of one month, or six months, or even a year.

Informing the international community through TV, radio and newspapers is

the only way to keep help coming long term."

Jeffery said that once the country is past the emergency phase, CCD will

make training, materials and other support for rebuilding and possible

village and town relocation.

But just getting past the emergency phase is proving to be challenging.

CCD staff reported Tuesday that new mudslides destroyed a temporary water

system they had constructed in La Laguna -- a village that is filled with

refugees from other communities. The mudslides also closed the road between

Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, which opened just Friday.

As information arrives the amount of damage and loss of life increases.

Nicaraguan newspapers estimate preliminary losses at 7,000 dead, 12,000

disappeared, and 1.9 million homeless. In Honduras the estimated damage

is rising past $2 billion.

In Nicaragua, Ben Meyer, an associate missionary for the Christian

Reformed Church World Mission, said information is trickling in despite a

destroyed infrastructure.

"We've had representatives go try to get to these isolated villages, but no

one can get there because the bridges and roads are washed out," he said.

"When we do get through, it's by boat or by a bridge that's been repaired.

We need as much clear information as we can get, so we have a strategy

for immediate needs."

After making contact with a village, representatives get a summery of the

number of homeless, the number of buildings destroyed, and the number of

sick and injured. Many times the group uses the welfare of children as a

yard-stick for the community.

"If the children are aren't doing well, the whole family probably isn't

doing well," he said.

A nationwide shortage of potable water is impending. The Public Health

Ministry of Guatemala reported the first cases of cholera, and has

increased water-treatment efforts to prevent the disease from spreading.

International relief flights delivered the first water purification

machines and needed medicines on Friday. The American Red Cross has plans

to send

40 tons of water purification chemicals and antibiotics to Central America.

"We think three of every four wells (in Nicaragua) is contaminated. There

is widespread diarrhea and respiratory problems, said Meyer, in

Nicaragua. "People have been damp for so long we're seeing a lot of

infections and foot fungus."

According to Dr. JoAnn Butrin, director of HealthCare Ministries, four

emergency HCM medical teams have responded to the plea for help in

Nicaragua and Honduras, with two additional scheduled to assist in

Honduras.

"The medical team called to request more trained personnel and more

supplies, saying the need and the devastation are beyond description,"

Butrin said.

For outreach programs with close ties to Latin America, the disaster takes

an added dimension. Washington D.C.'s Episcopal Diocese has been involved in

building schools, clinics and orphanages in Honduras for nine years,

according to Hill.

"A lot of churches here have the same names as ones down there. People

here are broken-hearted," she said. The Diocese's strategy includes

donating from the pews and asking United States airlines to donate space

on flights to Latin America.

"We're trying to get them enough money to hold over for a few weeks.,"

she said, adding that Honduras' only Episcopalian Bishop, Leo Frade, had

established a bank account in America which eased transfer of funds to

Central America.

Church World Service (CWS) has issued an appeal of $250,000 to its

member communions to fund immediate shipments of emergency aid to

Honduras and other affected countries. Action by Churches Together has

issued an appeal for $1.3 million dollars to support the relief and recovery

efforts of Christian Commission for Development in Honduras and the

Council of Evangelical Church for Denomination Alliance in Nicaragua.

Despite exhaustion and frustration, the helping hand extended by the

world to Latin America is being felt and appreciated by care-givers and

victims alike.

"Part of what keeps us going is the response outside Honduras," said

Jeffery. The outpouring has been incredible. It's been so touching."

Meanwhile, assistance from around the world continues to arrive in

Honduras. During her visit Tipper Gore announced that U.S. government aid

had ascended to $80 million for the region. Assistance from the European

Union is roughly $122 million so far, and France forgave the debts of

Honduras and Nicaragua last week. Spain followed by announcing it would

pardon $64 million of the region's debt by waiving payments due before

2002.

Aid from around the U.S. for sufferers of Hurricane Mitch are being

collected with no show of slowing down. The Lutheran World Relief is

sending 775 bales (44 tons) of material aid to parish hurricane committees

and local communities.


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