World Council of Churches Office of Communication|
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ONE YEAR AFTER HURRICANE, WCC GENERAL SECRETARY TELLS HONDURAN PRESIDENT THERE'S REASON TO CELEBRATE
cf. WCC press update of 22 October 1999
cf. WCC press update of 25 October 1999
The general secretary of the World Council of Churches has told Honduran President Carlos Flores that the people of his country have much to celebrate one year after Hurricane Mitch ravaged this Central American country.
"I'm impressed by what's already been achieved," the Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser told Flores during a brief October 25 meeting in the Presidential Palace. "Hondurans have every right to celebrate the new life and hope that has emerged from this tragedy."
The meeting between Raiser and Flores came at the very end of a four-day visit here by the ecumenical leader.
Raiser told Flores about his earlier visit to a resettlement community in the north of the country where 254 families are rebuilding their homes, replacing what they lost to giant landslides caused by the hurricane. The project is jointly sponsored by the Roman Catholic Church and the Christian Commission for Development (CCD), a long-time local partner of the World Council of Churches.
In the community, Raiser had heard praise for CCD's work from people whose lives were dramatically altered by Hurricane Mitch.
"When we were crowded into the shelter after Mitch, our children couldn't sleep, they kept crying and saying they wanted to return to their homes," recalled Deliana Juarez during an October 22 gathering in a Pentecostal church in Tegucigalpa. "Yet we had to tell them there was no home to return to. We felt impotent. And then the church came to help us. I give thanks that God touched the hearts of people who did not know us, but who were willing to help us, to love us from afar."
Juarez, a Tegucigalpa resident whose home was swept away by the hurricane, recently finished building herself a new house with help from CCD, which is a member of the Geneva-based Action by Churches Together (ACT). She said the aftermath of the storm had helped transform relationships in the poor neighbourhood where she lives.
"We learned we had neighbours, people we've lived beside for years without really coming to know. In the middle of the storm we became true neighbours to each other," Juarez said. "We've learned to value each other and work together in new ways."
"The villagers who showed me around the site have very down-to-earth plans, a determination to get the essentials in place and to do it with their own hands," Raiser told the president.
"They're digging an eight-kilometer trench for potable water, they're planning to build a school in the middle of their community which will be the first time many of their children will have access to general education. Their determination is an enormous resource your country possesses. They have a wonderful desire to shape the future themselves, accompanied by a concern not to become dependent on outside assistance."
Flores complained to Raiser that much of the assistance promised his government by the international community "is still in the pipeline". He told Raiser that while "a lot of expectations have been raised by what has been promised, only a little portion has already been channeled to the country. Most of what you have seen has been achieved with our own resources."
Flores said that the government's reconstruction efforts have been "complemented by the work of other sectors of our society. What the church has done is very positive. People in Honduras still have their hope up, even though there's still a lot of anguish about what happened."
Yet Flores complained that many nongovernmental organizations working in reconstruction "are not handling resources the way they should. Some of them have a political agenda, and others channel more resources into making a livelihood for themselves than in helping others."
Raiser explained how the WCC had supported work by CCD for many years, and said the organization "had made a very special and positive contribution to development and witness to life within Honduras."
During his visit here, Raiser met with a cross-section of Honduran society, including many who offered criticism of the government's reconstruction efforts to date.
"What we have is reconstruction without transformation," Raiser was told by Thelma Mejía, editor of the daily "El Heraldo" newspaper. Mejía said government-sponsored reconstruction has focused on rebuilding roads and bridges and satisfying the macroeconomic demands of the International Monetary Fund, while at the same time "the cost of living has risen, access to health care has become more difficult, and jobs and land grown more scarce".
Raiser also listened to a presentation by Gabriela Nuñez, the country's finance minister, who praised CCD's "important role" role in responding to the destruction wrought by Hurricane Mitch.
The finance minister complained that more recent crises in other parts of the world, such as the conflict in the Balkans, had eroded support in the international community for reconstruction work in Central America. "There's a greater competition for resources than before," she said.
Nuñez said the government also has to deal with foreign donors whose own interests get in the way of an appropriate and comprehensive response. She cited her experience with several governments who all wanted to finance the construction of a bridge on a major highway, yet none wanted to use their money to finance important bridges in less-transited areas of the country.
As he ended his four-day visit on October 25, exactly one year after the first rains of Mitch fell on Honduran soil, Raiser declared that the people of Honduras are "working with great vitality, determination, and imagination to transform the life of their entire society."
Raiser praised Hondurans for not seeking to rebuild the same country as was destroyed by the storm, but rather to build something new. "I have witnessed here a courage not to accept the forces that have weighed upon the history of the country until the present as something unchangeable," Raiser said. "There's a desire to turn this into a constructive opportunity fro change."
Honduras was the third country that Raiser visited on this current trip through the Caribbean and Central America. He earlier visited Cuba and Costa Rica. A planned visit to Haiti was canceled when Hurricane Irene closed airports in the region.
Accompanying Raiser on his visit here were the Rev. Israel Batista, the general secretary of the Latin American Council of Churches; Marta Palma, the WCC's executive secretary for Latin America and the Caribbean; Hubert Van Beek, the WCC's executive secretary for church and ecumenical relations; and a group of ecumenical leaders from Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Panama.
For more information contact:
Karin Achtelstetter, Media Relations Officer
tel.: (+41 22) 791 6153 (office);
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