Central America: Roads still in ruins and housing projects incomplete

HURRICANE MITCH, Central America, October 1998
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The Independent US

Hurricane Mitch raged through Central America in 1998, killing 10,000 people and leaving three million homeless, mostly from flood-related disasters in Honduras and Nicaragua.

Hurricane Mitch raged through Central America in 1998, killing 10,000 people and leaving three million homeless, mostly from flood-related disasters in Honduras and Nicaragua.

Hurricane Mitch also caused huge economic damage to the two countries, estimated at almost $9bn (£4.8bn) in a region already one of the poorest on the planet.

The relief that was promised never materialised. Governments pledged more than $3.5bn and the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Union promised a further $5.2bn, but less than a third was ever raised. More than half of the aid was in the form of cheap loans, hardly helpful to countries already struggling with more than $4bn of debts.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies admitted later that it failed to co-ordinate relief contributions and its technical staff and relief delegates arrived far too late. Its specialised equipment was deployed only "at the eleventh hour" and basic supplies took weeks to mobilise and distribute.

Even now, more than six years later, although the Honduras coastal region is showing signs of revival, with new hotels, resorts and restaurants, many roads and bridges in inland Honduras and Nicaragua remain in ruins. The agriculture is still devastated and housing projects have not yet been completed. Yet some lessons have been learned: reforestation programmes are making previously unstable hillsides safe, and now nobody builds in flood-prone zones. Mitch, which entered the record books as the first Category 5 storm to form in the month of October, was also one of the deadliest hurricanes on record. After devastating Nicaragua and Honduras, and hitting Guatemala and El Salvador, it continued into the Gulf of Mexico, moved across the Florida peninsula and then out into the Atlantic.

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