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Thursday, November 5, 1998 Published at 03:18 GMT

World: Americas

Famine fears after floods

Some 500,000 are homeless in Honduras

Hurricane Mitch has set back development in Central America by 20 years, the United Nations World Food Programme has warned.

BBC Special Correspondent Ben Brown reports: The world must help Nicaragua in its hour of need
Officials in the Central American states ravaged by floods say there is now a serious risk of famine.

They also fear outbreaks of cholera, malaria and dengue fever caused by pools of stagnant water littered with rotting bodies.

[ image: Hurricane victims reach out for aid]
Hurricane victims reach out for aid
Food aid is urgently required to cope with the aftermath of the rains and landslides that swallowed entire villages and killed up to 18,000 people.

Officials say floods caused by Mitch have wiped out about 70% of staple crops in Honduras and Nicaragua.

The World Food Programme has warned up to half a million people may need food and shelter.

David Loyn in Honduras: "The country is literally running out of food"
It has begun distributing food to 250,000 people in Nicaragua and Honduras.

Similar emergency deliveries are underway to 15,000 people in El Salvador and 37,000 people in Guatemala.

WFP liaison officer Rosa Antolin said food crops and livestock had been totally wiped out in some regions.

"The destruction is huge... In just one day the region has been set back 20 years," she added.

Nicaragua: 'We need $15m emergency aid'

Aid workers across the world are on their way to Central America to join the international rescue operation.

[ image: Food aid is arriving in Central America]
Food aid is arriving in Central America
Mexico has launched one of the biggest airlifts in its history.

Europe has approved nearly $8m in humanitarian aid, adding to some $3.7m already given by the United States.

Taiwan, which regards the region as one of its few diplomatic allies, has donated $2.7m.

But the Nicaraguan ambassador to the UN said his country alone needed some $15m in emergency aid.

The UN and the Pope have made appeals over the last few days.

But with the region's road network in tatters, it is feared supplies might not reach some hard-hit communities in time.

BBC Correspondent Bob Sinkinson tells of one plucky survivor
In Honduras alone 500,000 are homeless and more than 7,000 dead. The UK frigate HMS Sheffield found one Honduran survivor clinging to debris in the ocean. She was swept out to sea by flood water and survived for six days.

Next year's harvest threatened

The floods have not just damaged December's crop but also new seedlings planted for next year.

BBC's Peter Greste: Urgent action now needed
According to the Care International aid agency, farmers' store rooms were already empty as the storm followed one of the worst seasons on record.

The BBC Central America correspondent Peter Greste says many farming families will have to take drastic action to survive.

Some will go into debt to buy new crops, many more will probably migrate to the cities causing greater long term problems.

The priority for the agencies is to help farmers survive where they are in the short term until they can reap the next harvest.

President turns over aid distribution to church

Meanwhile, Nicaraguan President Arnoldo Aleman, under fire from the Sandinistas, has turned over aid distribution to the Roman Catholic Church to avoid turning the tragedy into a political issue.

The BBC's Tom Gibb in Honduras: ''Doctors fear epidemics''
The Sandinistas, the country's biggest political party, are demanding Mr Aleman declare a state of emergency and suspend constitutional guarantees.

Mr Aleman said the disaster was a greater tragedy than the country's 1972 earthquake which killed at least 10,000 people.

Mitch was the fourth most powerful Atlantic hurricane this century when it roared out of the Caribbean last week.

Its death toll could still grow sharply as 13,000 people are still missing following the storm, which swept away hundreds of thousands of homes.

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