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Sunday, 13 January, 2002, 01:29 GMT
Salvador struggles with quake aftermath
The Village of Hope on the outskirts of San Salvador
Living in Hope: Earthquake survivors wait for help
By the BBC's Mike Lanchin in El Salvador

Just before midday on 13 January 2001, a powerful quake, registered 7.2 on the Richter scale, ripped through the country, causing death and destruction.

At least 1,000 people died, 8,000 were injured, and tens of thousands more were left homeless by the quake, which was felt across the rest of Central American and Mexico.

Man at the rubble of his house
Tens of thousands were left homeless
A month later, a second quake brought down thousands more buildings and homes across four central provinces.

The repair bill for the two disasters was estimated at over US$2bn.

Twelve months on, many of the survivors are still waiting for a permanent place to live.

Hope and promises

At a camp for earthquake survivors, erected by the Salvadorean Government on waste land ten miles outside the capital, San Salvador, water pipes are being laid.

It is the first major works to be done at the camp, a sprawling array of tin shacks, which the authorities baptized "La Esperanza" or Hope.

For the past 12 months it has been home to some 800 families, who were left destitute when their houses and belongings were destroyed by the 13 January earthquake.

Women carry water in one of the temporary camps set up after the disaster
Aid and reconstruction have slowed in recent months
Since then, they have been waiting patiently amid the choking dust and sweltering heat, for the promises of permanent accommodation to be made good.

One woman, who lives with her two grown-up children and a baby grandchild, in a tottering tin and cardboard shack with no running water, told me they cannot go on living in such conditions.

She says that with many promises having been made, all she can hope for is to be re-housed before the winter rains set in May.

Aid slows

Around 20% of the housing in El Salvador was destroyed by the two earthquakes that hit in quick succession , first in January and then a second, one month later. Around a quarter of the total population was affected.

In the wake of the disasters, with the help of international aid, the Salvadorean Government set about building tens of thousands of temporary huts for the homeless, like those at La Esperanza.

But in the past months the pace of reconstruction has slowed down, as has the pace of aid flowing in from abroad.

Aid workers here are worried that rebuilding El Salvador has lost importance in the wake of the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and economic turbulence elsewhere.

One of the largest US aid agencies in El Salvador has already made cuts in its relief programmes following the 11 September attacks.

With fewer donations, the Salvadorean government is increasing its foreign debt in order to pay for reconstruction.

Deep wounds

Economists say that paying back that debt will have long term negative effects on the fragile economy.

San Vicente
Hundreds of people died in the quakes
But if the physical reconstruction of El Salvador is taking its time, so is overcoming the psychological damage of the disaster - especially for young children at La Esperanza camp, who felt the tragedy first hand.

In the days following the earthquakes, I met many youngsters still too terrified to speak about what had happened.

One little boy I spoke to last week in La Esperanza told me how he still misses playing with his five cousins who died in the earthquake.

Twelve months have passed, but the wounds from this catastrophe are far from healed.

See also:

07 Mar 01 | Americas
Spain pledges El Salvador aid
18 Feb 01 | Americas
El Salvador to renew quake appeal
08 Mar 01 | Americas
World Bank pledges Salvador aid
01 Mar 01 | Americas
Can money stop an earthquake?
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