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UN rushes aid ahead of anticipated damage wreaked by Hurricane Felix

UN rushes aid ahead of anticipated damage wreaked by Hurricane Felix

The United Nations has begun deploying aid and assistance to the areas in Central America expected to suffer from the destruction that Hurricane Felix – which made landfall in Nicaragua this morning – could leave in its wake.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that Nicaraguan authorities suspended school in the town of Bilwi and evacuated other local communities, while temporary shelters have been built on higher ground in the area where the hurricane, which has since been downgraded from Category 5, struck. The agency estimates that as many as 50,000 families in the country could be affected by the hurricane.

“What we are really concerned about is the communities further north, because they are very isolated indigenous communities,” said UNICEF Representative in Nicaragua Debora Comini. “The living conditions are very basic and there’s no infrastructure to withstand this kind of wind and rain.”

The agency said that warnings and evacuations have been announced in all countries potentially impacted by Hurricane Felix and that pre-positioned water, shelter, water treatment stations and first aid kits are ready if necessary.

Ms. Comini predicted that water and sanitation could be severely affected, and also noted that food distribution will be crucial in the long-term as “many of the crops are likely to be ruined.”

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) announced that it will send emergency teams and that it has enough food stocks in the region to feed 600,000 people for one month.

“Right now Hurricane Felix is a moving target and it’s difficult to predict with precision which countries will ultimately bear the impact of its destructive force,” said WFP Deputy Regional Director Gordana Jerger. “The result is that we have to be extremely flexible in our planning and to expect the worst. We just can’t take chances.”

WFP is prepared to transport both staff and supplies via air and by land, basing a key operational centre in El Salvador, where the agency’s sub-regional logistics base is located, and in Panama, home to its regional office. It is also considering using a ship to transport supplies along the coast of Honduras and Belize.

The region has already been battered by heavy rains and there are concerns that widespread landslides, such as those resulting from 2005’s Hurricane Stan, may occur, which could make roads inoperable and impede aid efforts.

WFP fears that Belize City could sustain as much damage as it did by Hurricane Hattie in 1961, which leveled 40 per cent of all buildings. The agency continues to provide assistance to 5,000 people in Belize in the wake of Hurricane Dean two weeks ago, distributing two-month rations of rice, pulses, high energy biscuits, vegetable oil and salt.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) today sent a six-member UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team to Honduras in support of the world body’s Country Team and the local Government to coordinate international assistance and assess urgent needs, UN spokesperson Michele Montas told reporters in New York.