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Poverty Times #1

Hurricane Mitch: not just a natural disaster

In late October and early November 1998, Hurricane Mitch moved through Central America, dropping as much as six feet of rain on some regions. Mitch was felt most harshly in Honduras and Nicaragua, and to a lesser extent on Guatemala, El Salvador, Belize, Costa Rica and Chiapas (Mexico). More than 22,000 people were killed or went missing and three million were made homeless or otherwise affected. By Grahame Russell

Most of Mitch’s victims lived in precarious conditions. Of the homes destroyed in Tegucigalpa (Honduran capital), "many were one-room hovels that blanketed the steep hills surrounding the city, poor areas long since denuded of trees by residents needing fire-wood. The soil had poor drainage and the waters from Mitch's downpours had nowhere to go, so thousands of homes were simply swept away in flash floods and mud slides"(1).

While the rains were "natural", the death and destruction from Hurricane Mitch cannot be blamed simply on a "natural disaster". There are also economic and ecological reasons. The Guardian reports that :"One of the reasons that the flooding [in Nicaragua] was so bad was that much of the land had been previously deforested, and the soils therefore eroded due to bad land-management practices, based on economic gain alone"(2). Clear-cutting logging, hillside farms, and rampant housing development caused further mudslides and floods. The damage was most extreme in Honduras, where loggers and farmers annually stripped away about 225,000 acres of forests (3).

Grahame Russell
Rights Action

  1. Washington Post, November 14. 1998
  2. The Guardian, November 18. 1998
  3. David Marcus, Boston Globe, November 11. 1998