|HUNGRY FOR AID|
November 13, 1998
JAMES MATES: On a muddy airstrip cut into a field in southern Honduras a C-130 transport aircraft has landed with a few tons of supplies: basic food, clean drinking water, enough for about 300 families for a week. It is welcome, but it is a tiny fraction of what's needed. With so many areas of the country crying out for aid like this, there is no knowing when or if there will be another supply drop to this town. Within minutes, the plane is underway again, heading back to the capital to reload and land again elsewhere. This is often the only way food aid is getting through, but you cannot keep an entire population alive by air drops alone. In many parts of the country this is the only alternative - sacks of rice and flour being hauled by hand across a river.
In whole areas of Honduras there are literally no roads, no way for trucks to get through. Here we found petrol being piped across the hundred-yard width of a river from one tanker to another, a triumph of human ingenuity but not a long-term answer. This is the main Pan American Highway that links the south of Honduras with the capital Tegucigalpa and goes on up North into Mexico. As you can see, it is no longer linking anything to anywhere. The loss of this bridge is the single greatest obstacle to moving aid South, but it's by no means unusual.
We could have picked any one of dozens of places where communications have been cut just as completely. In some of them temporary foot bridges are allowing the population some movement. It will clearly take years to restore many of these bridges, but in the short-term, erecting temporary structures is an absolute priority.
Perhaps the biggest danger at this stage is disease, aggravated by lack of drugs - disease caused by the filth, the lack of clean water, the rotting carcasses of dead farm animals. Many clinics are overwhelmed. At the main hospital in the town of Dan Lee, the medical director showed me his pharmacy, the shelves almost empty of drugs, no new supplies since the storm, none likely in the immediate future. "There are many places much worse off than us," he said, "so we're not really a top priority, but we do hope that we're going to get some supplies later this week." Top priority or not, babies are still being born here. The wards are crowded with women who can't leave with their newborns because of the condition of their homes. But without the drugs, without the sanitary supplies that it's proving so hard to move around this country, the hospitals may become next to useless as well. Much of what's needed is in the country, but until it's distributed, it can do no good.