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Red Cross: Flooding Leave Thousands Homeless in Central America - 2002-12-21

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says landslides, triggered by heavy rains, have left thousands of people homeless in Costa Rica and Panama. The Red Cross says at least six people have died and many others are injured or missing.

The Red Cross says the toll could have been worse. But it says, thanks to an education and disaster preparedness program begun in Costa Rica and Panama a few years ago, the number of deaths and injuries was relatively small.

Nevertheless, the head of the federation regional delegation, Gilberto Guevara, told VOA by telephone from Panama that the flash floods and landslides have caused significant damage to agriculture and other infrastructure, particularly roads. He said the livelihoods of thousands of small farmers have suffered a severe shock.

"The little pig farms, the chicken farms and their vegetable crops, all of that was a total loss," said Mr. Guevara. "It will take them awhile to begin the process of recreating what they had, and, of course, with no money to invest, it is a lot tougher for them."

Mr. Guevara said a major concern is health. He said drinking water pipelines have collapsed in many areas. He said Red Cross volunteers have begun cleaning up wells, and providing sanitation facilities and drinking water. He said this is essential, because of the risk of water-borne diseases spreading from contaminated water.

"Water that is standing in areas will also be breeding pools for mosquitoes," explained Mr. Guevara. "The Panama area is well known for not only the two types of dengue fever, but also some of the more difficult illnesses to treat, the malaria and others, which tends to be so deadly. So, that is our concern at this point in time, having the resources and the funding to be able to send our experts, and to organize our teams of folks to respond in the communities."

The Red Cross Federation has launched an emergency appeal for more than $200,000 to meet the needs of more than 8,000 of the worst affected people over the next three months.

The immediate needs are for clean drinking water, hygiene kits, kitchen equipment and gasoline canisters. Other agencies will be providing food.