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Central America Asks U.N. for Aid

November 4, 1998

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ Calling Hurricane Mitch the worst natural disaster to hit Central America this century, U.N. ambassadors from five nations appealed for international help Tuesday to feed and clothe the survivors and bury the dead.

The ambassadors said rebuilding Honduras and Nicaragua, which were hardest hit by the storm, will take years and will cost billions of dollars.

Honduran Ambassador Hugo Noe-Pino _ flanked by envoys from Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Costa Rica _ said the killer storm had put the country’s development efforts back at least 30 years.

More than 5,000 Hondurans have died, around 500,000 are living in shelters, 75 bridges have collapsed, 70 percent of the country’s infrastructure has been damaged, and 70 percent of its gross domestic product has been lost, he said.

``The need of food, medicine, clothes and other basic things is very, very important. The government is at this moment unable by itself to assist all the people,″ Noe-Pino said.

The Red Cross has estimated that Honduras needs about $10 million in immediate assistance, he said, and there is ``a very preliminary estimate″ that overall damage will reach at least $2 billion.

Nicaraguan Ambassador Alfonso Ortega Urbina said 70 percent of his country’s infrastructure has been destroyed. More than 1,500 people have died and many regions of the country are completely isolated, he said.

``The situation of the people is tragic. They don’t have food. They don’t have shelters. They don’t have clothes. So they’re desperately in need of help,″ he said. ``We will not have crops for the next six months so there will be hunger.″

The Red Cross and countries including the United States, Britain, Spain and Norway have provided some aid but Nicaragua desperately needs more assistance, he said.

Ortega Urbina said the country needs $15 million to $20 million in immediate help, which will be used for emergency aid to victims and to bury the dead and get rid of thousands of animals killed in the hurricane.

Nicaragua will not be able to pay the service on its current debt of $1 billion, the ambassador said, urging international institutions and governments to help the country’s economy in this time of crisis.

More than 250 people have died in El Salvador, Guatemala and Costa Rica, and thousands have been affected by the storm, Noe-Pino said.

The U.N. World Food Program announced Tuesday that it had distributed over 100,000 tons of food previously earmarked for development projects in Nicaragua, and was also distributing food in Honduras.

UNICEF said it had provided $20,000 worth of medicine to Nicaragua and was shipping 500,000 sachets of oral rehydration, used in cases of diarrhea and cholera. In Honduras, UNICEF said it was providing food, drugs and blankets for several thousand people and clean water for 62,500 people for a week.

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