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Costa Rica and Panama: Floods Emergency Appeal No. MDR43005 Operations Update No. 1

Situation Report
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Glide Nos. FL-2008-000158-PAN, FL-2008-000232-CRI

Period covered by this Operations Update: 1 December to 31 December 2008.

Appeal target (current): CHF 693,779 (USD 571,953 or EUR 450,336) in cash, kind, or services is sought to support the Costa Rican Red Cross and the Red Cross Society of Panama to assist a total of 12,500 beneficiaries (2,500 families) for nine months.

Appeal coverage: 27%

Appeal history:

- This Emergency Appeal was initially launched on a preliminary basis on 1 December, 2008 for CHF 693,779 (USD 571,953 or EUR 450,336) for nine months to assist 15,000 beneficiaries.

- CHF 270,000 (USD 222,580 or EUR 175,260) was allocated from the Federation's Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) to support the initial relief activities of the Red Cross Society of Panama, and CHF 110,500 (USD 96,507 OR EUR 75,685) to support the Costa Rican Red Cross in starting relief actions.

Summary: During the month of November, 2008 continuous heavy rain and floods damaged infrastructure affecting thousands of people in Panama and Costa Rica. The objectives in this appeal have been established based on identified needs: relief items, the completion of damage and needs assessments for early recovery activities (shelter, water and sanitation, and other sectors), and the strengthening and scaling-up of disaster risk reduction activities to contribute to building community safety and resilience for the future. This Operations Update will report on the progress of activities towards meeting the objectives established in the appeal.

This Operations Update reflects a decrease in beneficiary numbers for Costa Rica from 1,500 to 1,000 families, This was agreed between the Costa Rican Red Cross (CRRC) and the International Federation, after the Costa Rican Red Cross received generous contributions from the civil society, private enterprises and the national government. The Costa Rican Red Cross is currently revising its plan of action in accordance with the situation.

The Red Cross Society of Panama (RCSP) has started distribution of relief items in several of the affected provinces. Also the RCSP will implement a micro project that includes the distribution of a reservoir water tank for an entire community.

This operation is expected to be implemented in nine months, and will be completed by 1 September 2009; a Final Report will be made available by 1 December 2009 (three months after the foreseen end of the operation).

The situation

After continuous heavy rain and floods in November 2008, the government of Panama declared the provinces of Bocas del Toro, and Colon, as well as the Ngobe Bugle indigenous reservation under yellow alert, and green alert in the province of Chiriquí. A total of 10 fatalities were reported, 36,158 people were affected and 3,300 houses were damaged or destroyed. 58 shelters were set up initially; as of 10 December only four remained open (two in Bocas del Toro and two in Panama's northeastern area. Major roads were blocked and but are now for the most part cleared. Most of the communities that were isolated in zones of difficult access have now been reached. Livelihoods were damaged including banana plantations, and commerce and tourism have as well been severely affected. The total damage caused by the floods is estimated at USD 10 million. Relief and recovery efforts are slowing down although the cleaning of several water wells is still needed since they are contaminated and the affected population is at risk of water borne diseases.

The National Government continues to collect and dispatch essential relief items through the office of the First Lady and the National System of Civil Protection (Sistema Nacional de Protección Civil - SINAPROC). SINAPROC has been distributing water, food items and blankets to the affected communities. In Costa Rica, according to the National Emergency Commission (Comisión Nacional de Emergencias - CNE) floods and high winds associated with low pressure centers generated strong winds and daily rains in the Caribbean region, Northern and Central Valley. The most affected areas are Siquirres, Matina, Battan, Valle de la Estrella, Talamanca and Sixaola in the province of Limón. Other provinces including Alajuela, Cartago, San José and Heredia were affected.

According to local authorities, water levels from three major rivers (Sixaola in the south, Reventazón and Parismina in the north) broke containment walls and flooded up to two kilometres inland with three-metre high tides. This lasted for fifteen days, submerging many of the farms and communities within the area. In addition, the basin of the rivers Chirripó, Sixaola, Matina, Barbilla, Palacios, Hone Creek, Rojo and Sarapiquí in coastal areas overflowed. An official report issued by CNE reported that 118 communities were affected, 4,000 people were evacuated and sheltered in 65 shelters, 28 roads and communication routes were affected and three dykes and three bridges were totally destroyed. Also, more than 2,205 water wells were contaminated with flood waters. In the agricultural sector, crops of banana, cocoa and plantain were affected as well rice, corn, bean and yucca in a minor scale.