Hurricane Felix devastates Nicaragua’s North Atlantic Coast
HURRICANE FELIX, a top-strength storm with winds of 160mph, made landfall at 4.45am on September 5, at Sandy Bay in Nicaragua’s North Atlantic Autonomous Region. It caused widespread destruction in the region’s capital Bilwi (Puerto Cabezas), and even worse devastation in rural communities in one of the most remote and impoverished areas of Nicaragua.
According to Nicaragua’s body for disaster prevention and mitigation (SINAPRED) and the United Nations, 102 people were killed and a further 121 reported missing or feared dead. Overall, 190,000 people were affected, a round 20,000 houses destroyed or damaged, and 85 percent of crops devastated. With widespread contamination of wells and a rapid increase in mosquitoes in flooded areas, urgent measures are essential to prevent outbreaks of deadly diseases such as malaria, dengue and leptospirosis.
The Nicaraguan government declared a state of emergency and is working with UN agencies, relief groups and donor countries to co-ordinate emergency efforts. President Daniel Ortega presented a $28 million emergency relief plan to provide water and water purifying equipment, food, blankets, plastic sheeting and corrugated metal roofing, as well as to repair roads. The United Nations launched a flash appeal for $39 million, with $23 million of that earmarked for the most pressing needs.
The Humboldt Centre, a Nicaraguan environmental non-governmental o rganisation, has called on the government to declare a state of ecological disaster. As Rory Carroll reported in the Guardian on September 26, the hurricane shredded 1.5 million hectares of forest, including conservation areas, which will pollute the water and damage the region’s economy and ecology for generations.
The Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign immediately launched an appeal for funds for the affected communities to be channelled through URRACAN, the Autonomous University of the Atlantic Coast. URRACAN is committed to promoting the region’s autonomy, including respect for linguistic and cultural rights. Its academic programme is rooted in these aims and includes an extensive outreach programme particularly in rural communities.
After the hurricane struck there was an emergency mobilisation to meet food and water needs, and to provide moral support both on campus where the university was sheltering more than 100 people, as well as in communities. The small amount of funds NSC was able to provide immediately was used for this purpose. Discussion groups were set up as a way of helping students at the university deal with the mental stress resulting from a huge sense of loss. URRACAN is now assessing the longer-term needs of communities.
NSC is extremely grateful to all our members and supporters for their generosity in responding so quickly to our appeal – within two weeks, we received over £12,000.
Marina Spiegel, a lecturer at was in the region at the time of the hurricane working with URACCAN. She reports:
‘The damage to the already very fragile infrastructure will have wide-ranging effects… there is also immense damage to the ecosystems. On a psychological level, it is hard to imagine the impact: loss of people, loss of belongings that took years of schools, loss of crops. Communities and eastwards to the mouth of the impoverished area of Nicaragua faces a harsh future, unless London’s South Bank University, effort to accumulate, loss of over a wide area are affected, from Bilwi to Rosita, north to Waspam Rio Coco. This extremely emergency relief is swift, coordinated and uncompromising... ’