Seasonal cheer for hurricane victims in Belize

Published: 21 December 2001 0:00 CET

Cristina Estrada in Belize

Two thousand children in southern Belize got an unexpected visit, and some very welcome holiday cheer this week, when Santa became the latest volunteer for the Toledo District Branch of the Belize Red Cross (BRC).

The familiar figure in red and white costume accompanied Belize Red Cross teams carrying out food distribution in villages still suffering the aftermath of Hurricane Iris, which swept through the area in early October 2001. While their parents received much-needed food rations, the children crowded around Santa to be handed bags of toys, candies, books, and pencils.

Thousands of people in Toledo District are still struggling to rebuild their lives after Iris, an extremely dangerous Category Four hurricane, smashed into southern Belize on the late evening of 8 October 2001. The storm destroyed thousands of homes, damaged vital public buildings and transport and communication facilities, and flattened the banana and maize crops on which the local people depend for a living. Many of the inhabitants of the affected area live in isolated mountain villages and are subsistence farmers of predominantly Mayan origin, who lost most of their food stocks during the hurricane.

In coordination with the Belize Red Cross, the Federation launched an appeal three days after the disaster, designed to assist up to 4,800 beneficiaries in the southern areas of Toledo District for three months with food and non-food items. The BRC Toledo District Branch has implemented the appeal in the affected zones.

"Four rounds of food distribution have already been made to 14 villages - rice, flour, beans, sugar, shortening, and salt", explains Rob Linker, Federation delegate deployed to Belize to work with the BRC in the relief operation, "and the operation will continue into the early weeks of 2002". Non-food items, such as blankets and kitchen sets, have also been distributed in Toledo District, and in neighbouring Stann Creek District, which was also devastated by Hurricane Iris, the Belize Red Cross is carrying out extensive relief operations with funds raised through a local appeal.