Honduras braces for a long recovery
Damage caused by hurricanes may take years to overcome
SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras — Blanca Costa crouched on a wooden cart with her three daughters under a highway bridge. It had been days since the second of two hurricanes roared through this Central American country, flooding their one-room home with muddy, chest-high water.
The cart was the one possession Costa was able to save when they clambered out. The three horses that pulled it, enabling her to earn money as a trash collector, were gone. It would take years, she said, to save enough to buy another one.
“I’ll just have to go on foot now,” said Costa, 40, one of about 100 people sheltering under the bridge. “But it will be more difficult.”
Category 4 Hurricane Eta and Category 5 Hurricane Iota cut similar paths across Central America this month, a one-two punch that killed scores of people and displaced hundreds of thousands. More than a week after the second storm, vast areas of Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala remain flooded. Some areas
are accessible only by boat. Remote communities are relying on food dropped by Honduran and U.S. military helicopters.
Now a region that had already been hammered by the coronavirus and a deep economic contraction is facing a recovery that could take years.
“Honduras is facing probably the greatest catastrophe of its history,” said Carlos Madero, secretary of the Ministry of General Coordination of the Government, charged with managing the response. “We never thought and never imagined that we would have three emergencies of this magnitude in one year.”
The government has begun to sketch out a plan in three phases, Madero said. The most pressing is emergency and humanitarian relief, to help the tens of thousands of evacuees who still need shelter, food, water and other basic necessities.
Phase 2 would involve rapid rehabilitation and repair of homes, roads and bridges. The storms destroyed or damaged more than 850 square miles of farmland, threatening one of the few economic activities that had remained relatively dependable during the pandemic. A third phase would address “sustainable reconstruction” amid what Madero described as “a change in the climate that will have a direct impact on us poor countries. ... Honduras is the photographic example.”
It’s unclear how much the recovery will cost. Madero said the government is talking with the United Nations, individual countries and multilateral banks: “Once we have a sustainable reconstruction plan, it will be presented to the international community for support.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross estimates the recovery of damaged areas across Central America will take at least two years.
No country has been hit harder than Honduras, where at least 3.7 million people, or more than a third of the population, have been affected. And no region of Honduras has suffered more than the flood-prone valley surrounding San Pedro Sula, the country’s second-largest city and industrial center, where the storms caused the Chamelecón and Ulúa rivers to breach their banks, sending surges crashing into densely populated workingclass neighborhoods.
“This has overwhelmed the city’s capacities,” Mayor Armando Calidonio said. “It’s difficult to confront this alone.”