Hurricane Mitch: UN set to help ease the burden

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The Independent Online
THE United Nations Conference on Trade and Development yesterday joined the international effort to assist the reconstruction of central American countries that have been devastated by Hurricane Mitch.

A priority would be to press creditors to relieve the foreign debt burden on the worst-hit countries, in line with the declaration made by the French Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, at the opening on Monday of the Unctad meeting in Lyons.

At the same time, France said it had cancelled debts owed by Nicaragua and Honduras, while the Irish Republic announced it was doubling aid to countries ravaged by the storm.

In Spain it was announced that Crown Prince Felipe will visit the four Central American countries that were worst hit by the hurricane to express Spanish solidarity with the victims. The visit is expected to start tomorrow.

The Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar said the Spanish government will make available credit totalling $132m (pounds 80m) for the area. The decision was criticised by some aid organisations, however, which said the region needed direct aid rather than offers of credit.

Cuba announced it was cancelling Nicaraguan debts of $50m and the World Bank announced it was making $200m in assistance available from existing projects.

As debate continues over the cause of the catastrophe, the New Scientist magazine, in an article published yesterday, said the amount of rain that fell in the mountains of Honduras would not have caused the devastation the country experienced had it not been for extensive soil erosion. This erosion, the magazine, said, was a key factor in the flooding and mudslides that took so many lives. (AP/Reuters)