Ten years after Hurricane Mitch, Honduras is once again hit by natural disaster
NEW MOROLICA, Honduras, 27 October 2008.- In a coincidence that shows the terrible frequency with which severe tropical storms and hurricanes strike the region, the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Mitch falls at a time when Honduras is again suffering a nationwide natural disaster.
In recent days, 200,000 Hondurans have been affected by severe flooding caused by heavy rains, and 20,000 people have been forced to flee their homes for shelters. Half of those affected are children.
UNICEF has provided thousands of life-saving supplies, including medical kits, blankets and hygiene kits to prevent the waterborne diseases that are too easily spread in the aftermath of emergencies like this one. Still, much remains to be done, and UNICEF is asking the international community to help.
70,000 affected by flooding
More than 70,000 people have also been affected by the flooding in the neighboring Central American countries of Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Belize. The 2008 hurricane season has had devastating effects on several countries in the region, with the most impacted countries up to now being Haiti and Cuba. Widespread crop damage due to the various storms has aggravated the effects of the global food crisis, raising concerns about nutrition for children and pregnant/breastfeeding mothers.
This year’s rains provide a terrible echo of ten years ago when 10,000 lives were lost to Hurricane Mitch. Three million people were left homeless or severely affected. Fifty years of progress annihilated. A generation of children for whom every storm might bring a nightmare beyond imagination.
Ten years ago, Hurricane Mitch, the deadliest hurricane to hit the Western Hemisphere in over 200 years, changed the landscape of Honduras forever. From 27-29 October 1998, mountains crumbled and whole towns practically disappeared as Mitch tore through the country and the humanitarian community raced to help.
A UNICEF team recently visited the town of New Morolica, in southern Honduras, to see what has changed since Mitch – and to hear from a generation of children whose lives were altered in its wake.
Rebuilding a city
An orderly classroom full of 11- and 12-year-old students couldn’t have been further removed from the chaotic aftermath of the hurricane that shattered the country. Children quietly worked through complicated fractions, and their math teacher invited a girl to show her multiplication on the blackboard.
The children all seemed to like living here. “It is peaceful,” said Luis Antonio Morillo.
“There are good parks and a new sports field. Before, they didn’t have a baseball team – that’s why the children prefer New Morolica,” said Jareth Cali. The ‘before’ that Jareth talks about was the original town of Morolica. In 1998, after the storm, not a single house was left standing.
Ramon Espinal, who was the mayor at the time, remembered that night: “It’s something I will never forget, hearing the children crying. I heard people saying, ‘I lost everything.’”
‘A symbol of dignity’
Within a year of the disaster, work had begun on New Morolica. UNICEF helped to put in a safe water system that is still in use today. The organization also provided school supplies such as chairs, tables and books, as well as psycho-social counseling for children affected by the disaster.
In the ruins of old Morolica, Mr. Espinal looked at the spire of the church, poking up out of the earth.
“Now, we almost don’t fear anything,” he said. “When you’ve been through something that terrible, other things don’t worry us. Morolica has become a symbol of dignity.”