Costa Rica + 5 more

Central America Appeal No. 01.19/2002 programme update No. 02

Originally published


The Federation's mission is to improve the lives of vulnerable people by mobilizing the power of humanity. It is the world's largest humanitarian organization and its millions of volunteers are active in 178 countries. For more information:
Appeal Target CHF 3,890,674 Revised to CHF 2,816,156
Period covered: I May - 31 August 2002
Last Programme Update (no. 1) issued 14 June 2002


Appeal coverage: 84% (Revised budget)
Related Appeals: 01.18/2002: Pan American Disaster Response Unit;
Outstanding needs: CHF 439,232

Summary: While some regions in Central America remain affected by drought conditions, others suffered torrential rains and flooding in May. National intervention teams (NITs) formed an important part of the response to floods in the region. Effective response initiatives were also taken up by the Salvadorean, Honduran and Guatemalan Red Cross Societies following outbreaks of dengue fever.World Red Cross day was marked across the region through the launch of the campaign to fight HIV/AIDS related discirimation and stigma. A pilot project focusing on HIV/AIDS was initiated in Honduras, with encouraging results to date. An organization-wide change process within the Nicaraguan Red Cross was initiated in June and two workshops were held with the aim of defining the future orientation of the National Society. The process of supporting the board of directors of the Guatemalan Red Cross (GRC) to facilitate continued progress within the National Society despite the leadership crisis, is ongoing and elections are scheduled for October 2002. Following the holding of a summit with representatives of Red Cross Societies, Central American health authorities, the Federation and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) in April, a memorandum of understanding between the Federation and PAHO was signed on 15 May 2002. Coordination with members of the Federation has yielded positive results in unifying objectives and in establishing consortia for proposal presentations to the European Union and to DIPECHO.

Given lack of funding for the appeal, the budget has been revised downwards. Funds are much needed in all programme areas, particularly the disaster preparedness, humanitarian values, health and coordination and management programmes.

Operational Developments

Drought continues to pose problems in certain regions of Central America where successive crop failure is impacting on food security and exacerbating vulnerability. In May, drought and flooding occurred in parallel in the region and whilst severe drought conditions were prevalent in some areas, other regions in Costa Rica, Panama, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua experienced torrential rains and flooding. On 30 July, there was a minor earthquake in Chiriqui in Panama on the border with Costa Rica; electrical and telephone services were affected. In David, the provincial capital, the regional hospital was damaged and patients were evacuated. In early August, a series of earthquakes occurred in Nicaragua on the Pacific coast, measuring 2.9, 4.3 and 5.4 on the Richter scale and in mid August, a further quake on the Atlantic coast took place, measuring 5.3. No major damage was incurred.

Torrential rains hit Central Mexico in mid August and resulted in the bursting of the "Ventanillas" dam and subsequent flooding in the region of San Luis Potosi. A total of 13 people died and it is estimated that some 3,000 people were affected by the floods. In the municipality of Villa Garcia in Zacatecas, some 4,000 people were also affected by floods. In both areas, a state of emergency was declared.

As of late June, outbreaks of dengue fever occurred in Honduras. A state of emergency was declared on 22 July by the Honduran government, given that the number of cases of "classic" dengue fever in 2002 had more than tripled in relation to the previous year, and the number of cases of haemorraghic dengue fever had increased dramatically. The last time such a high caseload of dengue fever was experienced was following the hurricane Mitch disaster in 1998/1999. In El Salvador cases of dengue more than doubled compared to those in 2001, resulting in a state of emergency in four departments: San Salvador, Santa Ana, La Libertad and Cabanas. In Guatemala, in late July, the Ministry of Health (MoH) reported the following number of dengue cases throughout the country: classic dengue: 1,863; haemorraghic dengue: 179 with one fatality.

In Honduras, the fight against crime remains high on the political agenda whilst in Nicaragua, the popularity of the President has increased as he has achieved certain success in curbing corruption. In Guatemala, discontent with the government continues to result in increased social and political tension. During the reporting period, former paramilitaries in Guatemala held a number of tourists hostage and demanded compensation for their role in assisting the armed forces during the civil war; the government has promised payments. Low exports of coffee and poor prices continue to increase vulnerability and in Nicaragua have resulted in demonstrations held by unemployed plantation workers.

Disaster Response

In response to flooding in May, members of the national intervention teams were mobilized in Costa Rica, Panama, El Salvador and Honduras, participating in damage and needs assessments, evacuation and assistance to affected communities. Implementation of the regional agreement for mutual support resulted in the donation of 1,000 blankets by the Nicaraguan Red Cross which were transported by truck to the Red Cross Society of Panama for distribution. In Costa Rica, a new section of the disaster preparedness department has been created with 15 volunteers who are professional psychologists in order to provide support to those affected by disasters. These volunteers took part in the operation to provide assistance to flood victims in the province of Limón. A DREF allocation of CHF 25,000 was released to support the operations in Costa Rica and Panama.

A plan of action for the drought operation was drawn up by the branch of Somoto of the Nicaraguan Red Cross to assist a community of 102 families (662 people) in the community of La Concepci6n, municipality of Palacaguina, in the department of Madriz. Food, agricultural support, together with technical assistance, are being provided together with silos for the storage of grain, and a health component of the activities includes use of medicinal plants. This project is funded by the Federation and the Netherlands Red Cross and concluded at the end of August.

In Guatemala, communities affected by drought and food insecurity were provided with training in ethnic languages in such issues as breast feeding, food and nutrition, hygiene, diarrhoea and acute infections. This took place in 21 communities in Rabinal, Jalapa, Baja Verapaz and Chiquimula.

In the context of the drought operation, in Honduras in May 2,250 vulnerable families in Valle, Choluteca and El Paraiso received seeds and fertilizer in order to assist with agricultural recovery. In addition, training was carried out in the use of silos and educational material provided: 120 silos were distributed in El Paraiso (70 of which in 2001), 68 in Valle, and 32 in Choluteca and Pespire. These were funded by the Netherlands and Spanish Red Cross Societies and training and logistics were facilitated by an organization entitled Postcosecha, a cooperative of local artisans accredited by the Ministry of Agriculture. In El Paraiso, silos were distributed on a family basis, whilst in Valle and Choluteca, these were provided to groups of families. Five micro irrigation projects were identified and will be financed by the Spanish Red Cross; two have begun in Danli through the Red Cross branch. Projects will also take place in Pespire, Nacaome and Choluteca.

In El Paraiso, crop production at the end of May proved excellent. However, in the south of the country, difficulties persist as a result of irregular rainfall and protracted spells of heat: crops of beans and sorghum were therefore lost. The Centre for the Investigation of Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) estimates that a maximum of 35-40% of the maize crop will be saved.

In El Salvador, the maize crop sown four months ago is currently being harvested by the 200 beneficiary families in the region of Morazan. A National Society technical team is introducing innovative methodologies such as use of organic fertilizer, introduction of fruit trees and micro irrigation. Agricultural tools and fertilizer, bean and corn seeds were distributed at the end of April.

For further details, please see operations update number 2 on the drought operation to be found on the Federation website.

Dengue Fever Outbreaks

The Honduran Red Cross is supporting the Ministry of Health in fumigation and clean-up activities; Red Cross youth brigades are participating in education and awareness sessions in schools. The Honduran Red Cross benefits from a community health network established together with the PNS present in the country, and is training its new category of "social" volunteers to carry out activities in dengue fever prevention. Home visits are being carried out in order to identify larval breeding grounds and to raise awareness of preventive measures, including cleaning of the immediate surroundings to eliminate stagnant water. The Canadian and American Red Cross Societies reproduced educational material for a total of 10,000 families.

In a three month operation, the Salvadorean Red Cross Society (SRC) has been carrying out awareness activities in the department of San Salvador, and is targeting three of the worst affected municipalities of Apopa, Soyapango and San Marcos through a child to child initiative. 50 schools were identified with an average of 1,500 pupils. Since mid June, the National Society youth department trained 70 volunteers in dengue prevention who, with technical support from the community health office, in turn trained 10 students per school, together with three teachers and a group of parents in order to build a chain of awareness. Each pupil in the schools then received training with a view to ensuring that each student's family carried out cleaning and eradication of breeding sites for mosquitoes in the home environment. This operation is referred to as the "clean homes campaign". The initiative is closely coordinated with the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, the national emergency committee (COEN) and the Pan American Health Organization.

The Guatemalan Red Cross is ensuring coordination with the Ministry of Health and other organizations to support activities to promote dengue prevention. The National Society has adapted the leaflet on dengue prevention drawn up by the Salvadorean Red Cross Society to the Guatemalan context. With the support of the Federation and the American Red Cross, 10,000 leaflets are being distributed to affected communities. Red Cross youth volunteers are taking part in training activities organized by the MoH. The health department of the GRC is working with its branches in order to promote the organization of prevention campaigns in those regions most affected by the epidemic of dengue fever.

Disaster Preparedness

Objective 1: To finalize and evaluate an integrated CBDP model; to implement and consolidate an integrated approach to community based disaster preparedness and risk management.

In the first week of May, CBDP coordinators from the Costa Rican and Guatemalan Red Cross Societies continued the development of the first new integrated CBDP model based on feedback received from National Societies on the revised methodology. In June, meetings were held with representatives of the American and Netherlands Red Cross Societies in order to review the new framework. Meetings were also held with the regional delegates in the areas of health, organizational development and youth to ensure appropriate integration in the revised methodology.

With the departure of the regional disaster preparedness delegate in late June, this initiative will be taken up in September once the new regional disaster preparedness and health delegates have been able to familiarize themselves with the work carried out to date.

In Nicaragua, an external audit of the OFDA-financed programme in temporary housing and community education in disaster preparedness was completed over the reporting period. Results of the audit were largely positive and the final report is to be issued shortly. The branches of Jinotega and Matagalpa continue to implement projects in community based disaster preparedness, with their own funding. In Honduras, the community education "familia prevenida" ("wise family") campaign was re-launched in 17 branches using revised training material, funded by the Federation and PNS.

The CIDA Canada project was finalized over the reporting period, with the issue of the final report on projects implemented in Costa Rica, El Salvador and Guatemala. This report points to the recommendation to consolidate an integrated approach to community based disaster preparedness and risk management including: vulnerability and capacity assessment in the community; the integration of community education in health, water and sanitation; the culture of peace; the environment; disaster preparedness and the creation of local volunteer programmes and response brigades to improve links with Red Cross branches and promote long-term follow with communities.

Objective 2: To strengthen disaster preparedness planning and the disaster response capacity of the national societies in the region.

In Costa Rica, a risk management workshop was held with financing from the American Geological Institute and an agreement was signed with the National University of Costa Rica to carry out assessments of the most vulnerable communities in the country. The disaster preparedness office was restructured and now includes sections for psychological support, health and community education, NITs, finance and administration, logistics and damage and needs assessments. Evacuation plans for the National Society's regional committees were drawn up and 48 regional contingency plans were revised.

The Honduran Red Cross is currently drafting a revised policy for disaster preparedness, based on research relating to good practice in other National Societies/regions. In El Salvador, a workshop took place focusing on the analysis of previous experiences with a view to revising the national relief plan; 20 members of the Salvadorean Red Cross Society, two members of the Guatemalan Red Cross and two members of the Honduran Red Cross took part. In the same way, four preparatory workshops were held in order to revise the Honduran Red Cross national disaster plan, with the participation of branch presidents and volunteers.

Between 14 and 19 July, the Pan American Disaster Response Unit (PADRU) in coordination with the Regional Delegation staged a RIT refresher course. Three relief directors, 10 members of national societies in the Americas and one representative of the German Red Cross took part. The aim of the course was to ensure readiness of RITs members prior to the hurricane season, in the event of a large-scale emergency in the Americas.

Compilation of inventories of warehouses and relief supplies was carried out by the Salvadorean Red Cross Society and has begun in the Guatemalan and Honduran Red Cross Societies.

Objective 3: To contribute actively to the development and dissemination of new ideas and research in the field of disasters and in the development of strategic alliances.

In the context of the "design without borders" project, carried out through the Norwegian institute "Norsk Form" and the Rafael Landivar university in Guatemala, a visit took place to Honduras and El Salvador to areas where macro shelters were set up following hurricane Mitch and the earthquake. A presentation of the project was made on 14 August, attended by staff from the Guatemalan Red Cross, a representative of the national emergency committee, CONRED, and from the Rafael Landivar university. Alliances between the GRC, the regional delegation and CONRED continue to be strengthened, and representatives of the GRC and the regional delegation have attended regular meetings organized by CONRED, focusing on the planning of an international gathering on risk mitigation, to be held in October.

For further details please contact: Olaug Bergseth, Phone : 41 22 730 45 35; Fax: 41 22 73303 95; email:

All International Federation Operations seek to adhere to the Code of Conduct and are committed to the Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response (SPHERE Project) in delivering assistance to the most vulnerable.

For further information concerning Federation operations in this or other countries, please access the Federation website at

John Horekens
External Relations

Santiago Gil
Americas Department

(pdf* format)