I'd like to add the following e-mail I recently received from my brother (who's currently in Nicaragua) to the e-mail correspondence I've sent out about my Central American work term this summer. My brother's mail is hitting me hard because I worked in Santa Rosa (one of the municipalities he mentions) for a long time this summer, spending most of my time in a lunch program for children with malnutrition. I really grew to care about them, and had lots of fun swinging them around the place, holding them upside down and tickling them, or just sitting on them and then wondering aloud why my furniture kept giggling. When I left I was playing around with the idea of visiting Nicaragua again to see them in five or ten years' time to find out how they would turn out as teenagers. I think my brother's e-mail (which I'm still trying to absorb) speaks for the chance I have of seeing them again.
As I mentioned in the last monthly report, people in Santa Rosa were very happy with the state of their crops. There had been consistent rainfall and lots of sunshine. The corn, millet, and beans were all flourishing and it looked like there would be bumper crops this season. Instead of worrying about the crops needing water, people were taking care of other more controllable things such as insects and deer eating their crops.
But about two weeks ago, reports started coming in about a possible storm brewing off the East Coast. People immediately recognised the threat to their livelihood and were glued to their televisions and radios for the next few days, wishing fervently that the storm would disperse or that it would miss the area. But soon it became apparent that this was not to be. Reports started coming in that the storm, now named hurricane Mitch, the strongest of the season, had hit the East coast of Nicaragua and Honduras: large-scale damage was being inflicted by the wind, rain, and floods. In Santa Rosa, the sky had been permanently overcast, and we had already had several long downpours. We knew that it was only a matter of time before the stronger effects of the hurricane were felt in Santa Rosa.
Since my flight was leaving Nicaragua in a week and my departure was not flexible at all, I decided that I should try to avoid being stranded away from the airport by floods. In the afternoon, I caught a bus out of Santa Rosa and made it as far as Leon (it took four hours instead of the usual two and a half). I was unable to continue to Managua, because the Leon–Managua highway was flooded. The next day it didn't rain much in the Leon area, and I managed to catch a bus to Managua.
Only when I was in Managua did I realize how devastating the hurricane had been. There were televised reports showing entire communities submerged by the floods, scattered individuals trying to save what they could of their former lives, carrying all sorts of valuables, even livestock, on their heads and shoulders, stricken families trying to get away from flooded areas, other individuals wading into the flooded areas where they had relatives they hadn't seen, the few Nicaraguan helicopters straining to provide food relief and rescue services at the same time, and most painfully, interviews with families whose livelihoods had been washed away. So far, there have been more than 200 confirmed deaths, and more than 2000 reported missing. A community of over 800 people has been buried with mud, and there's not much hope for anyone there. The final death toll is expected to be in the thousands.
I had assumed that Santa Rosa hadn't been too badly affected. It's not all that far from Leon and Managua, and the weather there was wet but not terrible.
On the radio, I heard that all the crops (with the possible exception of tobacco) in Esteli, which is not too far from Santa Rosa, had been lost. Later on, I heard that the river in Santa Rosa had risen so high that the bridge leading out of the town was submerged. Several houses were also flooded and suffered water damage. This was the first hint of the damage that had been inflicted.
Today (1st of November - two days after the radio reports) I met the vice-mayor of Santa Rosa who happened to be in Managua and had been in touch with Santa Rosa by radio.
According to him, the bridge leading into Santa Rosa has been washed away. This was not a small bridge. It was a cantilever bridge some fifty metres across, and with maybe ten metres of clearance from the river. When I left Santa Rosa, the water was looking angry, but I never thought it would rise up to the bridge. I can't picture it. The volume of water involved is inconceivable for me.
Twenty-three houses have been washed away completely, and more than four hundred more in Santa Rosa itself have been damaged.
Nothing is known about the comarcas (where 80% of the population of the municipality live).
There has been at least one confirmed case of death, and many are missing.
All the human waste in the latrines has been washed out into the open. That, combined with the thriving mosquitoes and the fact that people are grouping together in the churches and other existing shelters, means that there is a high risk of epidemics of dengue, malaria, and cholera.
There is little food, no clean water, no transport, and very little communication.
I think it's safe to say that all the crops people were praying for have been destroyed.
I don't think I need to go on.
The Santa Rosans have not had a good harvest in several years due to too much or too little rain. This has meant that to make ends meet, people have been tightening their belts, sending family members to other areas (Costa Rica being a popular choice) to make a living for the whole family, or living by borrowing money. The situation was pretty desperate before and hurricane Mitch hasn't helped things at all.
The mayor and the organizations in Santa Rosa have been doing what they can under the circumstances. I understand that the three major organizations got together and bought all the food that was available in the village to distribute amongst the people. Their immediate problem isn't money, but rather transport. With the bridge down, it will be very hard to get more supplies to the people.
People in Santa Rosa and elsewhere in Nicaragua have suffered plenty already. The Nicaraguan government has little money, although it will undoubtedly be receiving foreign aid (that means us!). I doubt that FOG is either equipped or qualified to help directly in this situation, but there are many other organizations that exist for this sort of situation. Please, please, if you can spare something, make some donations to an appropriate organization.
Each of us can make a personal donation, each of us can collect donations from others at our place of work, in their neighbourhood, at their school, at church, or any place where we have friends. Real families are dying or have suffered a great setback in a country where any advancement is extremely difficult. For my part, I'm donating the US$200 that I have left in the bank here to Santa Rosa. I'll see what more I can do when I get back to Canada.
I'm sure FOG can do something itself, if only to help collect donations to transfer to other organisations. We'll let you know as soon as we can do more.