CIIR volunteers first to give aid
By a Staff Reporter Sixteen British volunteers from the Catholic Institute for Tnternational Relations were among the first relief workers on the scene in Honduras last Sunday, when Hurricane Fifi swept through the country leaving more than 7,000 dead and at least 100,000 homeless.
In a telephone message from the capital city, Tegucigalpa, Ian Cherrett the local CIIR field officer, said that the disaster was "as bad if not worse than the earthquake in Nicaragua".
Mr Cherrett estimated that 800,000 people, one third of the population, were affected by hurricane damage, and on the north coast, the area most affected by the 130 mile-perhour gusts, half a million people were isolated without food, transport or fuel. More than half the country's grain harvest has been lost.
But Mr Cherrett made it clear that immediate relief operations had been taken in hand by the Honduran Government, assisted by the United States, and he said There was no need for emergency help of the kind provided by foreign agencies after the Nicaraguan earthquake in 1973. The most desperate need will be funds for long-term resettlement and rehabilitation programmes for the popula tion of the devastated area. • On Tuesday Mr Julian Filochowski flew from CUR headquarters in London to obtain on-the-spot information on the extent of the damage. Earlier CIIR officials were relieved to hear that Peter Nairne, 34, volunteer from Sevenoaks, Kent, working as a radio engineer in El Progresso, had finally turned up safely after being missing for three days, 'Since the hurricane struck most of the British volunteers from CIIR have been working at emergency feeding centres in the areas worst affected. Relief is being co-ordinated by the Honduran Government through Concordia, a development agency involving trades unions, co-operatives and credit unions which has itself lost more than LI million as a result of the disaster.
A spokesman for the CI1R said that there was great confidence in Concordia, since the agency has a long tradition of work at grass-roots level, running farmers' cooperatives, assisting farmers' wives in nutritional education programmes and promoting rural health schemes. CUR volunteers working with the Honduran agency include four nurses, four agriculturalists, four nutritionists, a radio engineer and a physiotherapist. Dick Copeland, director of the CII R Volunteer Programme, said that the disaster was a serious setback to their work. "All the on-going development programmes have been wiped out."
The main problem, he said, was the non-availability of food. This year's grain crap had been wiped out and there would be no further harvest until August 1975. It was essential to obtain seed.
Apart from the problems of agriculture, radio schools set up by volunteers for adult education Ira(' been swept away. But Mr Copeland was particularly concerned at the effect the hurricane would have on the mentality of a people already apathetic through malnutrition. He feared that poor Hondurans would look at the havoc and say: "What's the use of developing our farms?"
The Catholic Fund for Overseas Development was sending £9,000 to aid the people of Honduras. About £4,000 of this was being forwarded through the medical depot of Our 1.ady of the Wayside parish in Solihull, Warwickshire, to pay for water purifying tablets, injections, vitamins, bandages and blankets. The remaining £5,000 was earmarked for the US Catholic Relief Services and Caritas. Mr Noel Charles, Director of CAFOD, said: "There is no great shortage of aid, so I think. the voluntary agency work is going to be medical supplies, cash grants for local purchases of food and shelter, then long term development aid." On Monday a British Army rescue team was sent to help the hundreds of people trapped by floods. More than 7,000 square miles of land was said to be under water in the northern part of the country.
To avdid the risk of typhoid, bodies discovered by rescue teams were buried in mass graves or immediately cremated. The number of deaths reported suggests that Hurricane Fifi may turn out to be the third or fourth most damaging hurricane in 200 years.
Honduras is one of the poorest countries in the world and the staple crop is bananas — it is here that the phrase "banana republic" originated. With virtually the whole of this year's crop wiped out and the country's fragile economy smashed it looks as if the effects of the natural disaster may be felt for years to come.