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The Aftermath of Hurricane Mitch: How CARE is Responding

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Hurricane Mitch was the most damaging storm to strike Central America in this century. The storm itself, with sustained winds of up to 180 miles per hour and eight days of rains that caused heavy flooding, resulted in massive damage. But it is increasingly clear that existing conditions multiplied the impact of the storm. Poor land use policies and practices and inadequate watershed management played a large role in the huge losses that occurred to life, to homes, to croplands and to roads, buildings and bridges. Recovery from Mitch will be a social, civil and political process as well as an economic one.
The hurricane gathered strength over the Caribbean Sea and struck the coast of Honduras on October 27, 1998. The storm slowly moved south and west across Honduras, touching the El Salvador-Honduras border before heading into Guatemala.

Since Hurricane Mitch struck Central America, CARE, its project participants, and local governments have worked tirelessly to help people recover from the storm's tremendous damage. The four Central American countries hardest hit by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 have made immense progress. CARE has reached more than 1 million storm victims with its programs in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

Summary numbers cannot, of course, adequately represent the individual tragedies and hopes of those whose lives were altered by Hurricane Mitch, nor do they hint at how much work remains to be done by families and nations to recover from the storm. CARE has largely finalized the first two phases of its post-storm operations in Central America; emergency response and rehabilitation. In the next phase, CARE and project participants will adapt CARE's long-term development work to incorporate ongoing recovery work that has at its core the promotion of community organization, building capacity of local governments, and the formation of a trust-based link between communities and their governments -- a link upon which sustainable recovery must depend.

Simultaneously, CARE will continue to capitalize on its efforts to strategize regionally across the four Central American countries. From the geophysical to the political, the social to the economic, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala share characteristics that should be addressed across national borders.

CARE remains committed to the transformation of Central America over the long term, and will continue to work in collaboration with communities, local governments and local nongovernmental organizations -- as well as to advocate at the national and international levels -- as a means to improve the lives and livelihoods of the marginalized people of the region.

CARE's work in Central America began in the 1950s when CARE opened offices in Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Guatemala. In 1966, CARE began development programming in Nicaragua. Since that time, the people of Central America have made great strides in spite of significant challenges. After more than four decades in the region, CARE and its staff were well placed to respond to the immediate -- and to the long-term -- effects of Hurricane Mitch.

CARE's Response

Nicaragua

Between August and October, 1999, CARE finalized most of the 15 Mitch projects in Nicaragua and has transformed ongoing, Mitch-related activities into larger development programs, mirroring the approach used by CARE in neighboring countries. Work during the reporting period, categorized as sustainable agriculture and environmental protection; housing repair and reconstruction; temporary employment; and water and sanitation, are summarized below:

Sustainable Agriculture and Environmental Protection: In Matagalpa Department, CARE's Agricultural Rehabilitation Project now largely focuses on development rather than rehabilitation activities, although farmers badly affected by Mitch will continue to receive extra assistance until the end of the year. This project helped over 3,000 households rehabilitate and protect their agricultural and forested lands and reestablish crop production. The Agriculture and Environment Project, operational throughout 1999 in León and Matagalpa Departments, helped 1,785 families diversify their food production and reforest about 250 acres of land. CARE intends to extend this project for at least an additional year, and link it to agricultural rehabilitation and improvement in Posoltega. There, CARE will work through November 2001 with residents of Finca Santa Maria (see housing repair and reconstruction, below) and 1,150 other families in the area to reestablish crop and small livestock production, identify and test alternative crops, and develop irrigation schemes where feasible.

CARE finalized its Seeds and Tools Project (Estelí and Matagalpa); Erosion Control Project (Matagalpa); and La Esperanza Project (Ciudad Darío) during the reporting period.

Housing repair and reconstruction: CARE's Vivienda Estelí Project helped 142 homeless families reconstruct their houses. By October, all 142 houses were completed, each with a water tap and a sanitary latrine. Participants in the Estelí Rural Infrastructure Project (see below) will soon finish building a road to the small community, after which residents, CARE and the municipal government of Estelí, will hold an official opening ceremony.

In October 1999, CARE launched housing reconstruction projects in La Trinidad and Posoltega. In both places, problems obtaining legal title to suitable land delayed project start-up. In La Trinidad, CARE and participants will build 49 houses in a jointly-planned community. In Posoltega, 350 families will build homes over the course of the next two years. The resulting Finca Santa Maria community will include a school, health facilities, green spaces and a water system. As mentioned above, CARE and participants also will engage in ongoing agricultural rehabilitation, buoyed by a good local harvest from the first post-Mitch agricultural season. Other organizations will contribute counseling, an agricultural training center and a small economic activities project to the residents of the future Finca Santa Maria.

Temporary employment: In Condega, Pueblo Nuevo and San Juan de Limay municipalities of Estelí Department, CARE's Rural Infrastructure Project created short-term employment opportunities through cash for work projects. In October, CARE secured funding for an additional two years of project activities. During the project's first phase, one or more members of more than 2,100 households in 60 communities rebuilt 101 kilometers of road, cleared riverbeds of flood debris, and built retention walls and sewers.

Water and sanitation: CARE operated three of these projects during the reporting period. The Water and Sanitation Project in Matagalpa and Jinotega that was recently transformed into a one-year development project rehabilitated 65 water systems and 204 wells serving a total of 35,880 people. In Chinandega, CARE's El Viejo Water Project will continue into 2000, providing participants with new water systems and latrines and the training to maintain and repair them. The Betesda Water Project in Posoltega reestablished clean water for 800 people and built 92 latrines. As mentioned above, a water system forms part of CARE's ongoing work in Finca Santa Mario, also in the Posoltega area.

Honduras

CARE managed seven Mitch-related projects in Honduras from August to October 1999. Four of the projects are now finalized, and two will conclude within a few months. The seventh has evolved into a three-year development project, in line with CARE's longer-term recovery strategy in the Central America region.

Food for Work: CARE's food for work program began in December 1998 and ended in October, 1999. The project encompassed agricultural recovery, environmental rehabilitation, and infrastructure repair and construction in 51 municipalities in 10 departments. In all, 36,000 families received basic food commodities -- maize and beans -- in exchange for their work. An additional 2,000 pregnant or lactating women and children under 5 received supplemental food in the chronically food-poor departments of Lempira and Intibucá. With tools and other relevant supplies from CARE, participants rehabilitated farmland, restored water and sanitation systems, rebuilt bridges and retaining structures along riverbanks and repaired houses damaged by the storm. With the addition of seeds and tools from CARE, many food for work participants were able to again produce food for their families. CARE's objectives were to ensure the short-term survival needs of families while helping them restore their productive capacity and support their economic revitalization. In all cases, food for work projects were three-party agreements between CARE, participants and municipal governments.
Tools and Supplies: As an integral part of the food for work project, CARE provided construction and digging tools, seeds and agricultural tools, and other items required by communities in their rehabilitation and construction work. This project component was finalized in September 1999.

Resettlement of the Homeless: In early October, heavy rains caused renewed flooding on the Choluteca river. Families were forced from temporary housing into their newly- or partially-built homes in Renacer Marcovia, a community planned and constructed by CARE and approximately 3,000 residents of the original Marcovia village, which was destroyed by floods a year ago. Today, 254 houses are complete and 226 houses are nearing completion. CARE and residents installed temporary latrines and water tanks, which will serve until January 2000 when permanent sanitation systems will have been built. Renacer Marcovia's population has played an important role in planning the new village's public and residential areas, and has provided all the labor for the cement-block homes.

Reactivating Household Economies (REMAM): As of late October, 177 community credit committees in 150 communities had disbursed loans averaging $195.60 to nearly 2,300 families. More than 70 percent of borrowers had launched small-scale commercial activities, and the remainder opted to begin production or food processing businesses. The REMAM project, an emergency economic rehabilitation program, will continue through January 2000, disbursing loans to a total of 3,000 families in six departments, including the families participating in CARE's Renacer Marcovia project.
Choluteca and Valle Water and Sanitation: In the first phase of this project, CARE and members of 18 communities will repair or rebuild storm-damaged water systems in eight municipalities of Choluteca and Valle Departments. By the end of October, eight of the water systems had been designed and three systems were under construction. Moreover, CARE and municipal authorities surveyed and registered as protected areas the fragile watersheds that feed these systems and that provide water for 500,000 people. CARE launched watershed management training for municipal authorities, and signed an agreement with the Honduran National Forestry Authority to provide additional training and support to the project. This water, sanitation and environmental protection project will continue until April 2002.

Hygiene Education for Urban Populations: This work, finalized in September, complemented CARE's ongoing Tegucigalpa Child Survival Project by training 800 community members and health workers to deal with water and sanitation issues in disaster situations, to administer water committees, and to manage post-traumatic shock. Nearly 1,500 primary school students learned about health and hygiene through this project component, and residents of 24 urban slums completed infrastructure projects, repairing or building latrines, drainage canals and retaining walls in their neighborhoods.
Villaneuva Water and Sanitation Education Project: CARE helped 1,275 families in Villanueva municipality overcome water and sanitation problems resulting from the hurricane. CARE provided technical assistance and materials to builda 80,000 gallon water storage system, the municipal government and CARE installed the principal branches of the water distribution system; and project participants were responsible for installing connections to bring water to their homes or communal taps. CARE also trained representatives of the participating communities in system maintenance as part of the overall process of community organization and participation.

CARE's ongoing development projects in Honduras address water and sanitation, environmental protection, sustainable agriculture, education and child health.

El Salvador

CARE's Mitch-related emergency and rehabilitation work in El Salvador has given way to two longer-term development programs that will assist people in theeEastern and western regions of the country (360,000 people and 163,000 people, respectively) to manage clean water systems, maintain basic sanitation facilities, protect the environment and rehabilitate agricultural systems over the coming years. A third project in Usulután brings CARE and the Rotary Club together to help 12 families rebuild houses damaged by floods last year. CARE's development portfolio as a whole in El Salvador focuses heavily on water supply, environmental protection and sustainable agriculture.

Guatemala

Between August and October, 1999, CARE finalized the last of its Mitch rehabilitation activities in Guatemala. In Alta Verapaz, CARE helped residents rebuild 19 suspension footbridges damaged or destroyed by flooding. In all, these bridges provide access to 93 communities and about 4,000 families. Since the hurricane struck, CARE's Mitch-related work in Guatemala has included emergency response, water and sanitation system rehabilitation, agricultural recovery, reforestation and watershed protection in the Polochic river basin, Alta and Baja Verapaz Departments. CARE's portfolio of ongoing development work in Guatemala includes village banks, health, agriculture and environmental protection and education.

For more information call 1-800-521-CARE or e-mail: info@care.org