Vatican City, 22 January 2007 - Caritas Panama is aiding 2500 people affected by flooding in late November that killed 11 people and injured nearly 1300, with one person still reported missing. Panama's civil protection unit originally estimated the number of people affected at 4500. Instead, some 24,000 people have been affected by weeks of heavy rains that continued in December, saturating parts of Panama and triggering landslides that left many communities cut off from the outside world.
"The more mountainous regions could only be reached by helicopter. Relief supplies are being transported on horseback and on foot. So, for example, as we reached Penonomé and the surrounding areas, we found there were 8000 people who had been affected by the disaster," said Caritas El Salvador's Ana Isabel Nieto, emergency coordinator for the region of Central America, Mexico and Panama.
"What is sad is that in the big towns, where only a few roads were flooded, the media were covering Christmas shopping and the new year, without even passing mention of the fact that thousands of Panamanians who live in the mountains have lost what little they had," Ms. Nieto explained.
Through its local diocesan centers, Caritas Panama has been providing shelter to many of the displaced, as well as providing basic items such as food, bottled water, cooking sets, hygiene sets, as well as mattresses and blankets for sleeping. Nearly 1300 people have been left homeless as houses were completely destroyed or suffered major damage. Bridges and roads have been washed out, and people in the region have also lost livestock in the disaster.
The areas most severely affected, where Caritas Panama is concentrating its efforts, include the areas around the town of Penonomé on the country's Pacific coast, as well as the provinces of Coclé, Colón, Kuna Yala and Panama Province in the canal zone. Caritas is focusing on helping the elderly, widows, orphans, the disabled and other vulnerable groups that may not be accessing aid from any other source.
Caritas Panama has been able to mount a response to take care of people's basic needs, having gathered over $US 77,000 locally. But the resources of the organisation are stretched to care for victims.
Caritas also plans to help people to regain their livelihoods by resupplying them with tools to reclaim their source of income, such as farming equipment. A counselling and support program is also being set up to help people deal with the trauma of having lost family, friends and property.
Caritas Internationalis is a confederation of 162 Catholic relief, development, and social service organisations present in over 200 countries and territories.
For more information, contact:
Nancy McNally, media officer
Tel: +39 06 69879752