El Salvador + 3 more

One year after, huge shortfall for Hurricane Mitch damage

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ROME - In late October of 1998, Central America was struck by its worst storm in 200 years. The horrifying floods and mudslides unleashed by Hurricane Mitch killed at least 8,500 people, destroyed entire towns and generally set the region back 20 years in the space of three days.
One year later, with new humanitarian crises pushing Hurricane Mitch off the television screens, Central America is still struggling to regain the ground it lost. And the United Nations World Food Programme is now warning that its rehabilitation programme for Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador has been stalled by underfunding, with many pledges of assistance still not materialized.

"For hundreds of thousands of people in Central America, Hurricane Mitch might just as well have happened yesterday," said Francisco Roque Castro, WFP Director for Central America and the Caribbean.

"We have been unable to give these people the food assistance that will free them to rebuild their homes and farms. We urge those donors - and any others who wish to help rebuild Central America - to make a generous contribution to our ongoing relief operation."

Roque Castro pointed out that the WFP operation hit a further obstacle in the recent heavy rains in the region. When the rains spawned $40 million in crop losses and the destruction of virtually the entire rural road system in those areas, Central Americans most affected began receiving food aid originally designated for post-Mitch activities.

"We cannot afford to let the world forget about Central America," Roque Castro said. "We desperately need the donor community to give help for the new and the old disasters. By drawing on the already insufficient resources from the Mitch activities, we are effectively mortgaging the future of the vulnerable people in these four countries."

Last July, WFP launched a two-year, $72-million operation to assist 1.1 million people in Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador rebuild their lives through food-for-work activities. However, the operation faces a 68 percent funding shortfall - one of the biggest gaps in current WFP appeals -- as pledges made in the wake of the disaster have yet to be fulfilled.

Roque Castro noted that even before Hurricane Mitch struck, the four countries were among the poorest in Latin America. WFP had been an active partner in Central America's social and economic progress for more than 20 years, investing half-a-billion dollars in development programmes, but now the battle against the poverty, hunger and poor health will begin again.

WFP is the United Nations' front-line agency in the fight against global hunger. Last year, its relief workers fed 75 million people, including most of the world's refugees. Headquartered in Rome, Italy, WFP has food aid operations in 80 countries.

For more information please contact:

Francisco Roque Castro, WFP Director for Central America/Caribbean. Tel +1-734-995-4370
Heather Hill, Information Officer, WFP/Rome-Tel. +39-06 6513-2253
Christiane Berthiaume-Information Officer/WFP Geneva-Tel. +41-22-9799564
Abby Spring-Information Officer/WFP New York-Tel. +1-212-9635196