Hurricane Mitch / Nicaragua: MSF begins emergency intervention

Geneva Following an evaluation mission to the worst affected areas; the teams from Médecins Sans Frontières have been assisting the victims of hurricane Mitch since Sunday, 1 November, in five regions of Nicaragua. Although Mitch has considerably weakened in the last 48 hours, the hurricane has been devastating Nicaragua and neighbouring countries for the past week. The hurricane has resulted in heavy loss of life and serious damage to the infrastructure of Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. The most serious problem at the moment is to reach the populations cut off by the rains and increasingly heavy floods.

MSF is currently preparing a shipment of medical material and water and sanitation equipment to Nicaragua in order to assist 100,000 people, which, according to MSF field workers, represents half of the population affected by Mitch. Distribution of emergency aid, notably of drugs to help fight diarrhoeal diseases, already started on 1 November thanks to MSF emergency stockpiles in Central America. MSF estimates that 2,000 people have been killed due to flooding and landslides caused by Mitch in Nicaragua alone. MSF is currently working in the following five regions which have been worst hit by the hurricane: Chinandega on the Atlantic Coast, Esteli, Nueva Segovia, Jinotega and the region of Managua, the Nicaraguan capital, home to a large number of the worst hit population.

The MSF intervention aims to restore and improve access to medical care, to safe drinking water and to shelter for those worst hit.

MSF is transporting mobile water tanks, motor pumps and chlorination equipment as well as blankets and plastic sheeting for temporary shelters as rapidly as possible to the worst hit areas. To date, the 30 people who make up the MSF teams have mainly distributed medication to the populations affected by Mitch, many of whom are still trying to escape flooding and move to higher ground. These people are frequently cut off in pockets of about 1,500 to 2,000.

Getting the aid to those who need it is frequently very difficult: more than 20 major roads have been washed away and about 35 bridges have either collapsed due to rivers breaking their banks or to mudslides. MSF is currently using helicopters made available by the Nicaraguan police. They are being used not only to distribute relief supplies but also to evacuate people to higher ground.