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Wednesday, November 4, 1998 Published at 02:45 GMT

World: Americas

Nations plead for aid after Mitch disaster

Children queue for food in El Salvador as governments ask for help

Central American governments have stepped up their appeals for international aid to cope with the aftermath of floods and landslides that have killed up to 18,000 people.

Peter Greste reports from Managua on the storms' impact
Ambassadors from the region warned a United Nations meeting in New York that famine and disease - such as cholera and malaria - were a grave threat.

The countries' appeals come as the numbers of those who died at the hands of Hurricane Mitch continues to rise.

Speaking at the UN, the representative for Honduras, Hugo Noe-Pino, said the storm had put his country - where 5,000 people are confirmed dead and another 11,000 are missing - back by 30 years.

[ image: Hondurans are moving out of devastated areas]
Hondurans are moving out of devastated areas
In Honduras, 75 bridges have collapsed, 70% of the country's infrastructure has been damaged and 70% of its gross domestic product has been lost, Mr Noe-Pino said.

"The need of food, medicine, clothes and other basic things is very, very important," he said.

"The government is at this moment unable by itself to assist all the people."

Mr Noe-Pino said the Red Cross had estimated that Honduras needs about $10m in immediate assistance, and overall damages could rise to at least $2bn.

'Desperately in need of help'

At the same meeting Nicaraguan Ambassador Alfonso Ortega Urbina said 70% of his country's infrastructure had been destroyed, including more than 40 bridges.

BBC Special Correspondent Ben Brown reports from Nicaragua
Some 2,000 people are believed to have died in Nicaragua and another 1,800 are missing.

Further natural disaster was threatening in the country as the Cerro Negro volcano began erupting near the Casita peak where at least 1,000 people died in a single mudslide last week.

Mr Ortega Urbina 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.

"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 to the region, but Nicaragua desperately needs more assistance, he said.

[ image: British navy personnel are helping the injured in Honduras]
British navy personnel are helping the injured in Honduras
The Nicaraguan ambassador estimated that his country needs $15-20m in immediate emergency aid to victims and to bury the dead.

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

The ambassadors of El Salvador, Guatemala and Costa Rica also appealed for assistance.

El Salvador and Guatemala saw 150 and 100 deaths respectively. Costa Rica, Mexico and Panama were also hit by Hurricane Mitch, one of the deadliest storms in central American history.

The five ambassadors later met UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

International assistance

The international community is offering help, with some several million dollars coming from the United States and the European Union.

US President Bill Clinton said his country had provided $2m in food, medicine, water and other emergency relief supplies, and the European Union has offered more than $8m worth of aid.

Meanwhile UN World Food said on Tuesday that it had distributed over 100,000 tons of food previously earmarked for development projects in Nicaragua and was 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 salts, 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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