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Latin America and Caribbean

Nearly half a million displaced in flood-stricken Central America and Mexico – at least a third are children.

© UNICEF El Salvador/2005/Hector Espinal
In El Salvador alone, as many as 65,000 people have been displaced by the severe floods and mudslides and that number is rising.

By Sabine Dolan

NEW YORK, 10 October, 2005 – Nearly half a million people have been displaced in flood-stricken Central America and Mexico – at least a third are children. The severe flooding and mudslides, brought on by Hurricane Stan’s heavy rainfall, continue to affect countries throughout Central America, including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Nicaragua. According to some press reports an estimated 750 people in the region have been killed; hundreds more are thought to be missing. UNICEF and other UN agencies have been in close contact with local authorities in each country, and have already begun to mobilize international support for emergency relief and recovery efforts.

Hundreds of thousands displaced

UNICEF Regional Director for the Americas and the Caribbean Region Mr. Nils Kastberg says the number of displaced people is rising rapidly. "We have possibly 65,000 people displaced in El Salvador and that's a number that's likely to rise. In Guatemala, we're talking about at least 100,000 people affected, but that figure is rising by the hour." Thousands of people have also been displaced in Costa Rica and Mexico; a number of villages have been closed off because some bridges have been destroyed. Kastberg says UNICEF’s priority is to help the hundreds of thousands of people now living in temporary shelters. "In those temporary shelters a very large number are women and children," Kastberg says. "The needs in terms of food, water, sanitation and protection for the children are extremely important. It's also very important to deal with the psychosocial state of mind [of these children], having lost everything and even perhaps having lost some of their closest relatives."

© UNICEF El Salvador/2005/Hector Espinal
UNICEF is dispatching psychosocial teams to help children who have suffered trauma from the disaster. Some have lost everything, including parents, relatives and friends.

Entire villages in Guatemala considered mass graves

Guatemala was hit hardest by the storm. An estimated three million people – nearly half of the country's population – were affected by the flooding and mudslides. "We're talking about communities where a high percentage of the population of those affected areas has been totally affected, which makes it very very difficult," Kastberg says. "For instance, it makes it difficult for neighbours to help each other because they have all been affected. So we're talking about perhaps sixty to seventy per cent of all those affected and in some villages in Guatemala, one hundred per cent of the village has been affected…in fact even buried. There's talk about some of these villages being declared mass graves, basically. So this represents an extremely high impact in a relatively small area of these tropical rains."

More rains to come

While some people may soon be able to return to their villages, yet more rains are expected to hit the area in the coming weeks. Kastberg says it's important to prepare for the worse. "We know that the rains will come and are likely to continue for the next two months. And so regretfully we have to prepare ourselves for the worse over the coming weeks." The damage caused by Hurricane Stan is severe. Throughout the region the most vulnerable communities have lost their livelihoods and income, and their survival conditions will remain precarious for several months. Preliminary estimates indicate that damage to national agriculture will surpass $400 million, as national livestock, coffee and banana industries have been dealt severe blows. The availability of food will be curtailed in the short term. The United Nations, in conjunction with governments, has identified priorities for international emergency relief assistance, including in the areas of water, sanitation and hygiene, food, shelter and household items, health services, communication and access to services, and coordination and support. It is about to launch a Flash Appeal for approximately $22 million for Guatemala alone.




10 October 2005:
UNICEF Director of the Office of Emergency Programmes, Mr. Dan Toole, talks about the situation in flood-stricken Latin America.

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10 October 2005:
UNICEF Regional Director for the Americas and the Caribbean Region Mr. Nils Kastberg discusses the devastation wrought by the floods in southern Mexico and Central America – and what UNICEF is doing to help the region.
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