|How your money helps: Honduras
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12 February, 2009
Photo: Christian Aid/Sian Curry
Sian Curry reports from a recent visit to Honduras
In 1998, Hurricane Mitch was one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes ever.
It left 20,000 people dead or missing in Central America and, according to Honduras’ president at the time, put the country’s development back by around 50 years.
There have been many more deadly storms since Mitch, most recently Felix in 2007. Hurricanes are a regular, annual threat here – and the UN’s climate change panel has warned that they are going to get worse.
In mountainous areas, storms often trigger landslides, especially in areas which have lost their forest cover. In low-lying coastal plains they cause serious floods. Poor communities are hit time and time again.
Christian Aid partner partner CASM is helping people here prepare to face the worst, adapting to climatic changes and protecting themselves and their livelihoods from danger. CASM’s work exemplifies the disaster risk reduction work our partners do throughout Central America.
Manacalito village lies between two of Honduras’ major rivers, and the annual storm season brings dangerous flash floods. Fed by heavy rainfall up in the mountains, these rivers can swell dangerously with no warning.
But CASM-trained river monitors now understand the link between rainfall in the mountains and danger on the coast. By listening to radio reports of water levels upstream, they can give their village at least four hours’ warning of disaster – enough time to evacuate safely.
Like many partners across Central America and the Caribbean, CASM helps to set up, train and equip village emergency committees.
These committees then co-ordinate disaster preparedness activities, rainfall/river monitoring, alarm systems, evacuations, emergency distributions, damage assessment and repair work in their communities – engaging with local government systems as appropriate.
During Hurricane Felix in 2007, newly formed emergency committees successfully stepped into action, raising the alarm, monitoring rivers, preparing shelters and managing evacuations.
CASM’s training helps committees understand the dangers in their community, and where they come from.
For example, to help coastal communities understand why local rivers can suddenly swell dangerously even when there has been little or no rainfall in their area, CASM took a group up to the mountains to show how rainfall upstream eventually ends up downstream.
Now monitors know to listen in to radio reports of water levels upstream, as well as monitoring local river height.
‘Our water comes from Santa Barbara , so when it rains there we have problems here,’ explains Maribel .’We didn’t know where the problem came from before. We didn’t know that all the water came from up there. Now we understand the link.’
Once communities are trained, they draw up a local risk map showing – for example – all the buildings, the rivers and streams, the areas at risk, the safe high ground and the evacuation routes.
Once risk maps and monitoring systems are established, the community decides its early warning alarm– for Karen’s village this is fireworks – and evacuation procedures.
‘First we have the green alert, then when we have a yellow alert we know that we’re in danger. Marla explained that we shouldn’t wait until the red alert when the rivers are full,’ explains Audelia, who safely evacuated her home, along with her 12 children and grandchildren, during Hurricane Felix in 2007.
‘Before, we didn’t know anything. We didn’t know when to leave and we didn’t know what an alert was.’
CASM also provides the committees with emergency equipment such as saws, ropes, life-jackets, boots, waterproofs and lanterns, and trains logisticians such as Karen and Faustina in how to maintain the equipment.