The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is appealing for $22 million to help 75,000 people worst affected by Hurricane Eta which tore through Central America with devastating force, ravaging seven countries in its path.
Hurricane Eta is emerging as a major humanitarian crisis in Central America. More than 2.5 million people from Panama to Belize are affected. The most severe impacts are being felt in Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala.
The International Red Cross Federation says Honduras is hardest hit of all with 1.7 million people or 20 percent of its population severely affected. IFRC spokesman, Matthew Cochrane, says women, children and members of indigenous and African communities who have lost everything are among the most vulnerable.
“These are areas that were already hit very hard by COVID and its economic repercussions," said Cochrane. "And, obviously these are areas that were homes of pre-existing vulnerabilities. Some of the countries affected are home to some of the largest economic inequalities in the world as well as high rates of crime and violence.”
WATCH: Hurricane Eta's devastation in Nicaragua
Cochrane says assessment missions to know the full extent of needs are still underway in Nicaragua and Honduras. He tells VOA one of the biggest challenges following a disaster such as this is accessing affected areas cut off by flooding and mudslides.
“We know that roads and infrastructure have been damaged and destroyed," said Cochrane. "We know that water systems have been washed away or completely inundated. We know that health systems have also taken a real blow…We have not yet had reports of disease outbreaks. That is not to say there have not been localized disease outbreaks in many of the areas we have not reached.”
Cochrane says measures must be taken to prevent an outbreak of water-borne diseases from stagnant water.
Over the next 18 months, the Red Cross says its multi-country operation will focus on rebuilding and repairing damaged shelters, improving access to clean water, hygiene and sanitation and addressing health care needs. Other critical areas include COVID-19 prevention and providing mental health support to the many traumatized victims of this disaster.