Honduras

As Honduras economy shows hope, Mitch's legacy still lives on

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Written by Stephanie Kriner, Staff Writer, DisasterRelief.org
A temporary bridge built over Honduras' Choluteca River in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch collapsed in early March, the second to give way in the past four months. The bridges were designed to accommodate traffic for just a few years, until more sturdy structures could be completed. But funding for the permanent bridges and at least 23 other structures remains uncertain and mired in red tape. Meanwhile, the fractured temporary spans demonstrate the shaky foundation on which the developing country's hurricane reconstruction effort is built.

Floodwaters from Hurricane Mitch swept away hundreds of bridges in Honduras. In another example of the slow recovery process, 11,000 people affected by Mitch once again have been forced to plea for emergency food aid. Since the hurricane's torrential rains wiped out their fields, more flooding and drought have left the indigenous people of the Mosquitia in eastern Honduras unable to harvest a crop, and the U.N. World Food Program is airlifting food to the region.

Hurricane Mitch ravaged Central America in November 1998, killing thousands of people and washing away fragile infrastructure in some of the poorest nations in the western hemisphere. In Honduras alone, the storm caused some $5 billion in damages. In the wake of devastating floods and mudslides, aid agencies and countries from around the globe pledged to donate millions of dollars to rebuild Honduras and help the country prepare for future disasters.

But sources say that the lack of existing infrastructure and political corruption have slowed the process to a crawl. "Government plans for irrigation canals and new roads leading away from bloated cities to centers that are less landslide-prone have been put on hold as donations have become tied up in red tape," according to a report by Jan McGirk, Latin American correspondent for the London-based Independent newspaper.

"The aid agencies are wise in the ways of corrupt politicians who delay implementing rescue programs and pocket the interest, and are keeping tighter control of the money," McGirk added. Corruption watchdog Transparency International listed Honduras as the most corrupt Latin American nation and ranked it 94th out of 99 countries tracked. Some 15 percent of the nation controls 80 percent of the wealth.

Starting from Scratch

Without basic infrastructure, aid agencies are starting from scratch in some areas, according to American Red Cross (ARC) workers in the country. For example, before even beginning to build new homes, relief workers must secure scarce and aggressively sought after land. They often must hire professionals to test for ground water availability and search for new land if it is not found. Once a plot is finally secured for a new community, the government, then, must build new roads that lead to the planned development.

Relief agencies are still struggling to build more new communities for the thousands left homeless by Hurricane Mitch.

Rebuilding long-term communities also takes time, according to Olga Bellido de Luna of ARC. "This is a poor country. In the United States, we only need to worry about paying our water bills. In Honduras, the people have to worry about fixing the system if it breaks," de Luna said. To ensure the new communities are self-reliant, the Red Cross is teaching residents how to maintain their water systems once the relief workers are gone.

Hurricane Mitch caused the most damage in Honduras. Slowly with the help outsiders, Honduras and the rest of Central America are recovering. Honduras expects sustained economic growth to cut poverty by 10 percent over the next six years with international loans and donations. Experts also expect revenue from the recovery of banana and coffee exports, which were wiped out by the flood. The economy will finally begin to turn around this year, with a 4 to 5 percent growth forecast for 2000. In 1999, Honduras experienced a 1.9 percent slowdown due to Hurricane Mitch.

While political experts warn that rampant corruption and uneven distribution of wealth could continue to fuel poverty and spoil economic growth prospects, some government officials have pledged to fix the past. "All growth can have positive impact on poverty. We have to ensure that it really has an impact because often you can have growth without it helping to reduce poverty," Central Bank President Victoria Asfura told Reuters.

DisasterRelief.org is a unique partnership between the American Red Cross, IBM and CNN dedicated to providing information about disasters and their relief operations worldwide. The three-year-old website is a leading disaster news source and also serves as a conduit for those wishing to donate to disaster relief operations around the globe through the international Red Cross movement.

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All American Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. To help the victims of disaster, you may make a secure online credit card donation or call 1-800-HELP NOW (1-800-435-7669) or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Or you may send your donation to your local Red Cross or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013.

The American Red Cross is dedicated to helping make families and communities safer at home and around the world. The Red Cross is a volunteer-led humanitarian organization that annually provides almost half the nation's blood supply, trains nearly 12 million people in vital life-saving skills, mobilizes relief to victims in more than 60,000 disasters nationwide, provides direct health services to 2.5 million people, assists international disaster and conflict victims in more than 20 countries, and transmits more than 1.4 million emergency messages to members of the Armed Forces and their families. If you would like information on Red Cross services and programs please contact your local Red Cross.

=A9 Copyright 1999, The American National Red Cross. All Rights Reserved.

DisasterRelief
DisasterRelief.org is a unique partnership between the American Red Cross, IBM and CNN dedicated to providing information about disasters and their relief operations worldwide. The three-year-old website is a leading disaster news source and also serves as a conduit for those wishing to donate to disaster relief operations around the globe through the international Red Cross movement. American Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. To help the victims of disaster, you may make a secure online credit card donation or call 1-800-HELP NOW (1-800-435-7669) or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Or you may send your donation to your local Red Cross or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013. The American Red Cross is dedicated to helping make families and communities safer at home and around the world. The Red Cross is a volunteer-led humanitarian organization that annually provides almost half the nation's blood supply, trains nearly 12 million people in vital life-saving skills, mobilizes relief to victims in more than 60,000 disasters nationwide, provides direct health services to 2.5 million people, assists international disaster and conflict victims in more than 20 countries, and transmits more than 1.4 million emergency messages to members of the Armed Forces and their families. If you would like information on Red Cross services and programs please contact your local Red Cross. © Copyright, The American National Red Cross. All Rights Reserved.