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Wednesday, October 20, 1999 Published at 20:33 GMT 21:33 UK

World: Americas

Action plan for storm disaster

More than 20,000 died as Hurricane Mitch tore through the region

Central American government leaders are calling on the international community to support their efforts to minimise the impact of natural disasters in the region.

And they are being backed by the aid organisation Oxfam, which says debt repayments are continuing to cripple efforts to recover from last year's Hurricane Mitch.

At the end of a two-day summit in Guatemala City, the presidents of El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Guatamela agreed a plan which they hope will avoid the repetition of catastrophes like the one that followed Hurricane Mitch.

More than 20,000 people died as a result of Hurricane Mitch and more than 500,000 were left homeless.

[ image: Floods have been made worse by poor environmental protection]
Floods have been made worse by poor environmental protection
Although still to be worked out in detail, the five-year strategy would prioritise water conservation, prevention of forest fires and the development of joint emergency responses.

Importantly, the Central American leaders also commit their governments to stopping the growing degradation of the environment.

In a candid admission, they recognise the destructive effects of natural phenomenon have been exacerbated by the poor protection of the environment in each of their countries.

But they say, too, that they need further aid from foreign donor countries in order to make the action scheme a reality.

That message is reinforced by Oxfam. The British-based charity says more than half the $9bn aid pledged after Mitch was in the form of cheap loans.

In a statement, Oxfam says Nicaragua and Honduras are having to put aside huge amounts of money to meet future repayments instead of spending it to help people rebuild their lives.

[ image: More people have been forced to flee in recent weeks]
More people have been forced to flee in recent weeks
Oxfam insists skued income distribution, under-employment and scant investment in health and education made Mitch much worse than it need have been.

Heavy storms in recent weeks left more than 50 dead and forced another 30,000 people to be evacuated from their homes.

Some of the areas worst affected by the rains this time round were those that are still barely recovering from the battering they took from Mitch.

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