In the meantime, the Belize Red Cross has been distributing food, water, clothing and other relief items, from its own stocks and from local donors, to 400 families in the Stann Creek and Toledo districts. A distribution centre has been set up in Punta Gorda, the Toledo district headquarters, by the BRCS, with support from the Federation, where more than 50 volunteers are working.
Unleashing winds of up to 225 km/hr, Hurricane Iris devastated the southern coast of Belize on the evening of October 8, leaving more than 20 people dead and some 15,000 homeless. Government assessments showed that in 35 villages, over 95% of houses and other buildings were destroyed. Because of the compact nature of the storm, two districts, Stann Creek and Toledo, bore the brunt of the violence, as it swept away buildings, ripped up trees and electricity lines and destroyed crops and food stocks.
A joint Oxfam/Federation workshop on food security was held in Punta Gorda to train eight people from the Belize Red Cross, the community and the army, to do nutritional assessments in the most affected areas and assess future needs. Many of the inhabitants of the most affected areas live in isolated mountainous areas and are subsistence farmers of predominantly Mayan origin. This population has become particularly vulnerable, having lost both their homes and their food stocks.
The Belize Red Cross has been offered donations of construction material from local companies to rebuild homes in the affected communities. This offer will be accepted and implemented in areas where the issue of land title is clear.
Sister National Societies rushed to the aid of the Belize Red Cross - including the Honduras, Salvadorean and Netherlands Red Cross Societies which provided emergency aid, including food, blankets, raincoats, plastic sheeting, hygiene articles and bags of drinking water. Relief goods bought by the German and American Red Cross are on their way to Belize City. The Federation's delegations in Guatemala and El Salvador also supported the relief operation.
The Federation's appeal, launched on October 19 for 655,000 Swiss francs is currently 94% covered.
The appeal includes training components in response and preparedness activities. As Audrey Courtney, President of the Belize Red Cross Emergency Response Committee, points out, this is a priority now that the emergency phase is over. "The immediate and short-term response has been very good but now I'm concerned about using this as a good experience to strengthen the National Society, particularly in the south of the country. We would like to develop long-term programmes whereby we could not only assist people but also help develop the National Society."
In Guatemala, the two northern departments of Petén and Izabal were hit by torrential rains brought by Hurricane Iris and thousands of people had to be evacuated to higher ground. The most affected communities were San Luis, on the border with Belize, and Sayaxché in Petén, where some 450 homes were damaged. Guatemala Red Cross volunteers distributed relief goods provided by the American Red Cross and the German Red Cross to affected families.