Honduran Red Cross reaches remotest areas by river
But in another sense Tablazo is by no means the end of the road, for scattered along the riverbanks are small communities of farmers living on their livestock and the rice, maize and beans they grow: Watera, Boca de Español, La Pintada, Españolito, Boca de Molejores, Bolinkí, right up as far as San Andres, which is eight hours away by motor canoe and the last place the Honduran Red Cross censused for this first river distribution. Beyond that the Rio Coco is virtually uninhabited until it winds its way into the lowlands of the Mosquito Coast. These tiny hamlets are often no more than reference points on the riverbank for dispersed groups of houses and smallholdings which, of course, are only accessible by river.
Some of these people lost everything except the clothes they stood up in that awful night, about 3 am, last October when the Rio Coco, heavily swollen by the rains of Hurricane Mitch rose and engulfed their homes and fields. As was so often the case in Honduras, survival was a simple function of how high up the bank people had put down their roots. And the torrent left the familiar landscape of new mud cliff-faces, dead trees and tangled vegetation, bespoiling the otherwise spectaculary beautiful jungle scenery.
Conducting a proper census of the needs in this area was difficult enough. Getting food to these people harder still. But with the help of the Honduran government for the former and skilled local boatmen for the latter the HRC has successfully tackled these challenges. Much of the credit for last week's operation belongs to a 32-year-old HRC volunteer, Ninoschka Arauz, who organised the distribution from her base at the HRC branch in El Paraiso city and who is also the Federation's relief coordinator in the department. The food was driven to Tablazo in a truck donated to the HRC by the ICRC during the war along the border.
Then, over two days, the American Red Cross rations were either taken direct to beneficiaries in a chartered canoe or picked up by them in Tablazo, with the Federation paying the fuel bill. The river is difficult at this time of year -- the height of the dry season. The canoe bottom frequently snags on rocks, and it takes great skill both by the helmsman and the oarsman in the prow to guide it through the shallows and rapids. Sometimes it's necessary for passengers to disembark -- either in Honduras or Nicaragua -- while the crew negotiate particularly difficult stretches. The return journey is made partly in the dark.
Getting food and other aid into remote areas has always been the real challenge in Honduras, which is fortunate to possess some of the world's last remaining wildernesses -- most of which are officially protected areas. Another 50km downstream from the HRC operation, for example, is the Patuca National Park. The hurricane, of course, did not differentiate.
A greater need still than food, however, is probably seeds, to enable these almost wholly agricultural people to really make a new start. Visitors to the Mosquito Coast always report that this is the item most commonly requested along the riverbanks. The Federation agricultural rehabilitation programme for Honduras is now underway with a census of potential beneficiaries, and actual seed distribution starts early in May.
The HRC, meanwhile, has proved that no one in this country need feel completely cut off.
=A91997 International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies