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Dominicans still facing disaster

BY ANGELICA AQUINO | BARAHONA, D.R. | December 11, 1998

BARAHONA, D.R. (Dec. 11, 1998) -- Overshadowed in the public outcry to

help survivors of Hurricane Mitch in Central America, the Dominican

Republic is still reeling from its own catastrophic tragedy it suffered

when Hurricane

Georges ravaged the country in late September.

More than two months after Hurricane Georges struck, Dominicans of all

socioeconomic backgrounds have been trying to cope with the harsh reality

Georges left behind, hundreds of dead, massive devastation of the island's

infrastructure, the crippling of the already often dysfunctional electrical

power company, the lack of potable water and the full devastation of

agricultural crops.

"One of the biggest problems we are facing today in the Dominican

Republic is the issue of housing for the poor and the working class.

"In Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, we are facing a

serious problem with the continuous development of barrancas (a term used

for shanty towns surrounding the island and very visible along the banks

of the Ozama River -- the main body of water in Santo Domingo)," said

Raman Elas Hidalgo, a former Secretary of Public Works for the nation

during the last administration of Joaquin Balaguer and currently a civil

engineer and urban planner.

"The concern is two fold: first, the continuation of development of

barrancas, causes the obvious public hazard, the terrain is unstable and

the living conditions are infrahuman.

"The second concern is one of affordability, where are we as a society

going to place those who are not able to afford to buy or obtain

subsidized housing", said Elias Hidalgo, who now runs one of the top

private construction company in the Dominican Republic with an office in

New York City.

Hurricane Georges devastated the Dominican Republic, it dumped torrential

rains on the southern region Sept. 22. Barahona, one of the provinces in

the southern tip of the island had one of the highest numbers of dead,

devastation and

total destruction.

"There are towns and complete villages within Barahona

that are still swamped by mud and torrential rains hitting the area with

a fierce intensity almost every day. And. . . the class most affected has

been the poor," said the Bishop of Barahona, Mamerto Fabio Rivas.

Relief operations in the Dominican Republic have been complicated

by the fact that the island is somewhat polarized by a political crisis in

the country. The present administration, known by its acronym, PLD

(Partido de la Liberacion Dominicana) has been accused by its

rival party PRD (Partido de la Revolucion Dominicana) and its allied

party PRSC (Partido Reformista Social Cristiano) that relief operations,

including the removal of debris and garbage in both

urban and rural areas have been manipulated by those seeking to gain

political mileage out of the misery of the poor and affected areas.

One church group attempting to provide direct relief, the Servicio Social

de Iglesias Dominicanas (Social Services of Dominican Churches or SSID),

has a working agreement with the Dominican government that any supplies the

organization receives is not taxed or seized by bureaucratic officials.

Meanwhile, some political leaders are calling on all country's factions to

work together to solve the challenges left by Georges.

"It is of great concern to me and to every Dominican in the Republic

that the media and those with access to the press relay the message that

we as a nation need to continue to assess the devastation of Georges and

that we need to count with the global help coming to us. To not

understand and verbalize it, will indeed create the misconception that we

are not handling the present crisis," said President Joaquin Balaguer.

"It is necessary for the international press to understand that there is

a housing crisis in the Dominican Republic that dates back to Hurricane

David in 1980.

"It is necessary to continue

working with all foreign personnel coming to train Dominican nationals in

all areas, but the priority should be in building with Mother Nature, not

against her, since hurricanes and tropical storms including tidal waves

are part of life", said the Rev. Jose Rogers, a Methodist minister

working out of Palenque, a coastal town, an hour away from Santo Domingo.

The Dominican Republic has received pledges of more than $65

million in disaster response aid from the U.S.

But in Barahona as well as in most of the country, relief operations so

far, have been directly dependent on the help that Dominicans living abroad

mainly in New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Miami can wire home.

"We are also working with members of Habitat for Humanity. They are


on a long term basis to assess and work with members of entire

communities throughout Barahona, in order to coordinate the rebuilding of

the Dominican Republic", said Bishop Rivas while discussing the

intervention of the National Episcopal Conference and the role of

the clergy in the disaster relief operations.

As the international community pledges aid to help rebuild the

country, debris and garbage generated by Dominicans

accumulates in the streets of Santo Domingo, in the alleys of

small villages of San Pedro de Macoris, or Barahona or the Valley of El

Cibao, faith-based organizations are trying to organize long-term


As many residents of the Dominican Republic face a bleak Christmas, they

have not forgotten residents of Central America.

"Despite the devastating impact Georges had in

Barahona and other regions of the island, Dominicans of all classes have

poured in to help and make direct donations" to Central America, said

Bishop Mamerto Fabio Rivas, the Catholic Bishop of Barahona and

spokesperson of a clergy coalition.

"The hurricane devastated entire communities, self-employed people, and

despite such devastation entire communities are rallying around the

devastation caused by Mitch in Central America. People are putting the

little they may get to send something to their fellow brothers and

sisters in Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador."

"We need to reassess where are we going. We also need to work with the

international community and its people. We need volunteers and students

from universities willing to come to help rebuild."

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