Nicaraguan Red Cross succeeds in reaching remote communities after Felix

Published: 18 September 2007 0:00 CET

Manuel Esteban Rodríguez, Regional Communications Delegate for PADRU, in Managua

“Complex and costly” is how Alejandro Morales, Emergency Services Director for the Nicaraguan Red Cross (NRC) defined the integrated response of the variety of agencies which includes the Red Cross to the aftermath of Hurricane Felix that struck Central America on 4 September.

Geographical conditions have challenged rescuers like Morales and over 100 Red Cross workers from day one. It is a vast affected area, with limited land access necessitating air, river or sea travel to a large number of communities.

Red Cross volunteers are still reaching remote and mountain-bound communities which have not yet received help even two weeks after the monster category five storm passed between Sandy Bay and Puerto Cabezas, the capital of the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN).

“We thought the guys would operate today in ten communities. They would spend one hour in each, the helicopters would wait for them, and take them back to the base in Puerto Cabezas,” explains Jorge Rovira, the rescue team coordinator from the Costa Rica Red Cross which is supporting the relief effort in Nicaragua.

“But the situation just changed, now they will stay until tomorrow. The needs for assistance are very big,” Rovira says after hanging up the phone with his counterparts in the field.

Around 80 Nicaraguan Red Cross volunteers joined by 25 rescuers from the Costa Rica Red Cross have given medical attention to about 500 people. Using the humanitarian air bridge to the disaster area, the volunteers are moving supplies and doctors into communities to provide first aid. So far, they have helped 30 communities, logging 150 flight hours.

“It’s really hard to respond when all of the volunteers from our branch are victims,” says Morales. “We are working to assist affected people and our own volunteers. The Red Cross plans to help 2,700 families, 80 of them are families of our volunteers in Puerto Cabezas.”

The Puerto Cabezas Red Cross branch office itself was affected. and lost its only income-generating scheme from before the storm which was the sale of drinking water. The filters and receptacles needed for the job were damaged by the hurricane. The same fate befell the ambulances and part of the building.

To date, the Nicaraguan Red Cross has delivered nearly 90 tonnes of humanitarian aid to affected communities. Items include liquid milk, reinforced sheeting, dry goods, water containers, bottled water, blankets, clothing, hygiene kits and cooking sets.

Some of these supplies were already pre-positioned in Puerto Cabezas since before the storm made landfall as a preparedness measure. The Red Cross also pre-positioned volunteers and provided early-warning using megaphones to announce the hurricane’s imminent arrival to the town.

The priority for the Red Cross is feeding. Currently this entails giving the means to nourish 2,700 families with a food package good for one month. The Red Cross is also focussing its efforts on the distribution of non-food relief items, systems for accessing safe water and environmentally sound sanitation, psychosocial support and HIV prevention.

After Felix hit, one of the first activities of the International Federation, through the Pan American Disaster Response Unit (PADRU), was to coordinate with the National Societies in Nicaragua and Costa Rica the sending of emergency workers specializing in search and rescue, telecommunications and doctors to give first aid.

A caravan of aid is being readied for shipment this week to Puerto Cabezas to deliver 235 tonnes of goods. The caravan is comprised of ten trucks carrying 30 tonnes each, vehicles to facilitate work on the ground and 20 volunteers.
Authorities estimate 162,200 people in Nicaragua were affected by Felix. International organizations figure it will take $40 million US to help those in need for the coming six months.

The International Federation’s appeal for nearly one million Swiss francs ($825,000 USD/euro600,000) to support Central American Red Cross National Societies remains open. The funds are being used to supply some 23,000 people (4,600 families) with emergency items including tents, mosquito nets, blankets, jerry cans, clothes, bedding and plastic sheeting in Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala.

Before the hurricane made landfall in Central America, the International Federation released 200,000 Swiss francs ($166,000 USD/ euro122,000) from its disaster relief emergency fund. Red Cross Societies from Canada, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Switzerland and the United States which are supporting long-term projects in the region are also participating in the relief effort. The Cayman Islands Red Cross, overseas branch of the British Red Cross, is also sending aid and volunteers.