Restoring normality to Costa Rica’s flood victims

Published: 9 April 2003 0:00 CET

Julio Oviedo of the Costa Rica Red Cross in Limón province

“I heard that a worse flood is coming,” says a weeping Maria Eugenia Almoneor, a resident of La Estrella valley, on Costa Rica’s Atlantic coast. “I hope this is not true: If it is, I don’t know what will happen to us.” Her words reflect the impotence felt by hundreds of people living in the south of Limón district, which was affected by severe flooding last December.

It is easy to understand why these people are terrified by warnings of more floods. It is now more than three months since this area was hit by its heaviest rains in over 30 years. Many believe that things are getting worse instead of getting better.

The floods have had serious economic consequences: the Standard Fruit Company transnational has layed off over 400 people because of the losses suffered in plantations during the floods. Hundreds of people are still living near dangerously high rivers since their economic situation does not allow for them to be relocated.

To make matters worse, the intensely hot weather has dried up dozens of water wells in recent days. This has happened while the local population struggles to restore more than 2,000 wells polluted by the floodwaters.

But María Eugenia’s anguish was temporarily relieved last week. Hers was one the 750 families who received a kitchen kit distributed by the Costa Rican Red Cross. This kit is composed of cutlery and utensils, plastic and metal pots and a 20-gallon water container.

Distribution was carried out among most needy families in the communities of Sixaola, Margarita, Catarina, Paraiso, Swith, Celia, Chase, Volio, Bribri, Gavilán, Canta, Chinaquicha, Suretka, Shiroles and Bambú.

“It feels like this help came from heaven”, said Angela Obando, who in her 70 years, has lived through many floods but none as serious as last year’s. “It almost left me on the streets,” she added.

María Eugenia and Angela have seen how their families and their neighbours have had to mortgage their next harvest to ask for credit to buy seeds that will replace the crops they have lost.

Government sources estimate that rains affected more than 70 per cent of the crops. They put agricultural losses at about five million dollars, plus a quarter of a million lost in the tourism sector and more than two and a half million dollars worth of damage caused to the region’s infrastructure.

This tells of the scale of the disaster, but not the whole story. For Red Cross staff and volunteers are helping the inhabitants of Limón on a daily basis. In Talamanca, the people remember the Red Cross volunteers who went through the town delivering safe water just an hour before the New Year began.

Even now, girls and boys in the poorest towns play with the more than 3,500 toys delivered by UNICEF and the Red Cross to make their Christmas happier.

Since the floods struck, psychology experts from the Costa Rica Red Cross Disaster Prevention section have carried out a dozen workshops to help these people to overcome the emotional impact of the disaster.

With this help, the people of Limón are hoping that the normality they enjoyed before the floods came can gradually be restored.

Related links:

Costa Rica Red Cross
Costa Rica: appeals updates and reports
News story: Caribbean hurricane season ends with floods in Costa Rica and Panama
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