Mitch Brings Hemisphere’s Worst Blow

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Army Plans New Tactics To Meet Needs


AFTERMATH–Hurricane Mitch left death and devastation; inhabitants of towns and villages must rebuild homes and lives.

by Robert Docter – 

The Salvation Army seeks qualified and experienced Spanish-speaking volunteers able to assist in the repair of infrastructure in the southern region of Honduras as that nation strives to begin the lengthy process of rehabilitation, repair and renewal following the onslaught of Hurricane Mitch. Construction, water resources development, and crop restoration are the most urgently needed skills along with some medical assistance. Qualified applicants should apply directly to The Salvation Army World Service Organization (SAWSO) in care of Harden White, P.O. Box 269, Alexandria, VA 22313.

In the waning days of late October, Mitch, the strongest and deadliest Atlantic hurricane on record, played its highly destructive Halloween trick. Crashing onto the shores of Central America with sustained winds in excess of 180 miles per hour, Mitch unleashed torrential rains which produced catastrophic flooding and landslides. Honduras was the hardest hit. Its National Emergency Committee reported that 5,657 people were killed, 8,052 missing and 11,762 injured. Close to two million people were affected as the nation’s infrastructure crumbled, isolating entire communities. Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador and Costa Rica all sustained significant damage and extensive loss of life.

Operating through the National Headquarters Disaster Coordination office and SAWSO, the Army initiated what has now become a three-phase approach to long term development and repair of infrastructure within those key areas not already assisted by governmental and non-governmental agencies. The southern region of Honduras, which experienced some of the most devastating effects of the hurricane but which only received minimal external assistance, has become the major long-term focus of The Salvation Army in the United States.

The Army has not had any presence in Honduras. Because of this, four experienced disaster relief assessors were dispatched to the region along with Major David Dalberg, national disaster services coordinator. Captain Michael Olsen, El Paso city coordinator, represented the West. Also very active in the initial assessment period were the staff of the Latin America North Territory, headquartered in San Jose, Costa Rica. These included Colonel Robin Forsyth, territorial commander, Lt. Colonel Jerry Gaines, territorial business administrator, Lt. Antonio Marcos Campos, corps officer and translator, and other territorial personnel.

“The Salvation Army has shown an extraordinary capacity, through SAWSO, to link development and disaster recovery efforts to support our basic evangelical mission in needy countries around the world. The miracle of reopening our work in the former Soviet Union is directly linked to the active support and development efforts of SAWSO,” stated Olsen.

The first phase, emergency response, followed this initial assessment. During this phase many LAN officers and soldiers coordinated the distribution of emergency food service, including thousands of hot meals, packaged rice, beans and water along with chlorine tablets, infant care products, tents, medicines and personal care items. Additionally, the teams provided transportation of victims to safe areas. Within just a few days the Army had distributed tons of food, clothing and other items.

In late November Forsyth convened a meeting in San Jose involving LAN representatives of his territory as well as from IHQ, USA NHQ, and SAWSO in order to discuss and plan for a long range response. Major Roland Sewell, IHQ coordinator for emergency and refugee services (ERS) represented IHQ. Sewell identified and the group concurred in a statement of philosophy necessary to guide the Army’s response. The following points summarize that philosophy:

  • Identifying needy communities
  • Selecting communities based on criteria
  • Working in partnership and living with the community
  • Responding at their point of need
  • Developing projects and programs based on community needs and capacity and thereby responding holistically to physical, emotional, and spiritual requirements.

In his meetings with national leaders in the various countries his review team visited, Sewell explained the guiding principles of the Army’s disaster response to be long-term, holistic and integrated with the goal of re-creating community.

Additional meetings led to identification of the second and third phases. The Salvation Army USA developed the following plan of action to fulfill its responsibilities within the Army’s broader response: That plan includes:

The recovery phase, designed first, to deploy volunteer teams which bring specialized expertise in addressing recovery needs. These needs include (1) the process of moving from an emergency response to more of a “self-help” approach; (2) moving from emergency sheltering to establishing family based/managed transitional housing; (3) public health issues; (4) mental health issues; and (5) the assessment of community-based recovery/development support services based on an educational model.

Second, this phase seeks to identify needed resources in relation to volunteer personnel, employable local personnel, Salvation Army officers, focused in-kind donations, and purchased materials to complete specialized tasks.

The third phase is the restoration phase. This phase includes, first, the identification of specific tasks including: (1) the development of a plan to address the full scope of local food needs, i.e. planting, growing, importing (etc.); (2) establishment of permanent housing; (3) provision for local health care services; (4) provision for local mental health services; (5) continuation of community-based restoration/development services.

A second task in this phase involves the identification of needed resources. This includes: (1) specialized volunteers providing technical assistance; (2) local qualified and trained community personnel; (3) intensive utilization of community resources; (4) materials to complete restoration programs; (5) Salvation Army officer personnel; (6) monetary support to assist with the restoration programs.


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