Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 29, 1999
$10.5M fund for Mitch victims aids rebuilding of Central America
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
Half of the money donated by Canadian Catholics for victims of hurricane Mitch will be used to rebuild Honduras, where a quarter of the population was left homeless.
The money will be mainly used to reconstruct homes and re-establish farming projects in the central American country.
Catholic dioceses, parishes, schools, community groups and individuals across Canada have donated $10.5 million to help victims of hurricane Mitch through the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.
The campaign was launched Nov. 4, shortly after the mudslide and flooding from hurricane Mitch left at least 9,000 dead and millions without shelter.
Of this, $2.5 million was sent for emergency relief. This included building refugee camps, food and clothing. Of the remaining dollars, $7.5 million will be spent over the next three to four years to fund-long term projects in these countries and $500,000 has been allotted for administrative costs.
"These (long-term) projects include rebuilding homes and farms," said Ken Whittingham, CCODP's national director of communications and research. "We want to support a program where people will be able to carry on by themselves and not depend on someone to come in and help them with it every week."
The funds will be distributed among four Central American countries, with Honduras getting the bulk of the pot because it was hit hardest.
Nicaragua will receive 30 per cent of the long-term project funds, El Salvador, 15 per cent and Guatemala, five per cent.
Along with rebuilding homes and farming communities, Whittingham said other long-term funding is for public health care, drinking water systems, and coordination, which he described as a means of avoiding waste and duplication.
Whittingham was part of a CCODP team which visited central America in February.
"Everything was buried in either water or mud," Whittingham said. "You're walking along and you kick something and you realize it's the top of someone's house buried underneath all this mud. It's like an avalanche of snow, but it's mud."
The aftermath of Mitch has flashed through TV screens and print media. But those pictures cannot compare to the "battlefield" Whittingham saw.
Even after four months, the cities and countryside are still far from recovery. The air is scattered with dust blown astray from dried-up riverbanks.
Mitch caused two extremes for the countries' water systems: some rivers have dried up into nothing more than embankments of rocks, while small streams which were once treadable have turned into raging rivers more than 30 metres wide. Trees, 25 metres tall with their roots intact, have been blown throughout the countryside and roadways.
"It's not as if these trees were uprooted," Whittingham said. "The ground surrounding the roots was completely washed away. And the wind blew them all over the place."
"I think what struck me most was the devastation. What I saw were homes which were destroyed. In some cases block upon block was flooded. Three to four streets completely disappeared, buried underneath water."
The urgency to rebuild main roadways and shelters increases with fervour as the countries' rainy season fast approaches.
"We want to get these roads completed before the rain season in May," Whittingham said. "Even during the rain season these roads can be impassable. It could be worse if we don't have it completed."
Construction on some homes has begun, but local builders face the possible constraints of lack of usuable land space. Land in some areas hit hardest by the flooding may lack the stable foundation.
"There's some psychological damage too," Whittingham said. "(Residents) may not want to build where they lived. They are afraid it will flood again and the same thing will happen."