Hurricane Mitch: World Bank to help the victims

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The Independent Online
THE WORLD Bank is to make$200m (pounds 125m) available from existing projects to assist Central American nations devastated by Hurricane Mitch.

The bank is working on measures to prevent debt servicing from constraining the ability of Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala to meet their emergency needs.

The International Monetary Fund's managing director, Michel Camdessus, will visit Central America next week to study ways in which the IMF can provide assistance.

France said yesterday that it had cancelled debts owed by Nicaragua and Honduras. The confirmation came a day after Prime Minister Lionel Jospin called for the move. It also came a day before President Jacques Chirac leaves for the region. At the same time, the Irish Republic announced it was doubling aid to countries hit by the storm. Spain announced that Crown Prince Felipe will visit the four worst-hit Central American countries to express Spanish solidarity with the victims. The visit is expected to start tomorrow.

The Prime Minister, Jose Maria Aznar, said Spain will make credit of $132m available to the area. The decision was criticised by some aid organisations, which said the region needed direct aid, not credit.

Cuba announced that it was cancelling Nicaragua's entire debt of $50m.

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 intense poverty.

People were forced to clear land for buildings and grazing in areas that were vulnerable to mudslides. (AP/Reuters)