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Tuesday, November 10, 1998 Published at 06:29 GMT

Central American leaders urge debt relief

Leaders from Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and El Salvador

Central American presidents have appealed for the debts of Nicaragua and Honduras to be written off to help them overcome the devastating flooding caused by Hurricane Mitch.

David Loyn: Honduras needs to be rebuilt from the bottom up
At an emergency meeting in El Salvador the presidents of Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Costa Rica also called for increased aid, investment and trade to help rebuild their shattered countries.

"We lost in 72 hours what we have taken more than 50 years to build, bit by bit," said Honduran President Carlos Flores.

The four presidents, joined by Guatemala's foreign minister, agreed to support an appeal to write off debt estimated at $10bn owed by Honduras and Nicaragua, two of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere and the worst hit by the widespread flooding.

[ image: The destruction of roads is hampering relief efforts]
The destruction of roads is hampering relief efforts
France, Germany and Britain have said they are ready to support a debt moratorium.

The World Bank has announced it is providing a further $130m for Central American countries, bringing the total of emergency World Bank aid for the region to about $200m.

Officials say the money will be diverted from existing long-term projects to help the reconstruction effort.

BBC's Richard Lister: The World Bank has not yet responded to moratorium calls
The President of El Salvador, Armando Calderon Sol, has also asked developed countries, in particular the United States, to be more flexible in their treatment of Central American immigrants.

Money sent back to the region by overseas workers is crucial to all their economies.

BBC Correspondent Clive Myrie has the latest news from Honduras
On a recent visit to Honduras, former United States President George Bush said it was in America's interests to provide aid both for humanitarian reasons and to prevent a potentially huge tide of economic migrants heading for the US.

Warnings of disease

Meanwhile aid workers have been warning that hunger and disease could add to the 10,000 deaths already known to have resulted from the hurricane.

BBC's Jon Brain: Reports of cholera and typhoid
Supplies of food and medicine are starting to reach flood victims in some areas, but many places are still difficult to access, and clean drinking water is in short supply.

Survivors are being urged to steer clear of muddy rivers that may carry human and animal remains, and to filter, chlorinate and boil water before drinking it.

[ image: Starved to death]
Starved to death
Health officials have reported thousands of cases of respiratory illnesses, including pneumonia, and at least 17 cases of hepatitis A.

With Honduran officials estimating that 20% of the country has been made homeless, it is feared that famine could spread.

Aid arrives

Rescue teams are rebuilding bridges and roads in an effort to deliver aid to remote areas.

The BBC's Clive Myrie reports on the fate of Honduran street children
A British rescue team and the Nicaraguan army have joined efforts to help about 30,000 people stranded by flood waters of the Coco river on Nicaragua's border with Honduras.

The river has cut off communities in the north-east of the country for the past 10 days and reports say entire villages are suffering from severe diarrhoea and vomiting.

Aid trucks are also reported to have reached Posoltega, the community where 2,000 people are believed to have been killed in a mudslide down the side of a volcano.

[ image: Stagnant water increases the threat of disease]
Stagnant water increases the threat of disease
Engineers have also managed to link the capital, Tegucigalpa, with the main port, allowing aid shipments delivered by sea to be moved on.

But in eastern Honduras there are reports of new landslides burying two entire villages.

In many areas helicopters are still the only way of getting supplies to areas cut off by the flooding, but in Honduras a fuel shortage is threatening the airlift operations and in Nicaragua there is a lack of aircraft.

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