The tortilla tucked into Santos Espino's pocket was the tip-off: Food in this hurricane-ravaged part of Nicaragua is in short supply. Espino, who did not know when the next food truck would arrive, was saving a portion of his last meal for the future.
For many people in this northeastern region of the country, the future is now uncertain. Hurricane Felix, a category five storm, slammed into their fields of corn, rice, and beans in early September, robbing them of their harvests. Heavy rain and winds of more than 100 miles per hour pummeled remote communities of Misquitos, Mayagnas, and Mestizos, destroying or damaging thousands of homes.
"Beyond the immediate recovery needs is the fact that the harvest has been lost,"" said David Vinuales, an Oxfam communications officer who recently returned from a field visit to the region. "The rice was planted in May, during a drought, and everyone knew that this year would not be good. But now they have lost everything."
Getting relief to remote areas
Working with two local organizations—Acción Médica Cristiana and Centro Humboldt—Oxfam has launched a relief program aimed at helping more than 30,000 people with their immediate needs for food, water and sanitation services, and shelter materials. Difficult-to-reach communities around the River Coco and in the Bilwi, Sasha, and Siuna areas are the focus of the effort.
"This is the Caribbean coast and the Rio Coco where access is limited," said Dawit Beyene, the humanitarian deputy director for Oxfam America. "Some communities are not accessible by roads, but only by boat."
But Oxfam and its partners are now providing 250 tons of food to more than 7,400 people in Waspam. And together with its partners, Oxfam has installed water tanks in the communities of Sinsin and Santa Marta, about 20 miles from Puerto Cabezas. About 10,000 people are benefiting from that clean wate—a critical service in the days after a disaster like this.
"Now that the initial danger is over, the new threat comes from disease and lack of sanitation," said Vinuales, after visiting another community shortly following the storm. "I saw a 7-year-old girl collecting water from the gutter of her house. It's the only water that her family can use to cook or drink. The water mill is contaminated and in the river you can see dead fish."
Poorest are now more poor
The storm left a swath of destruction, directly affecting more than 180,000 people and destroying 15,000 homes. According to the United Nations, Felix killed 67 people, and 110 others are still missing. The hurricane also wrecked 6,000 latrines and damaged 5,000 wells. To help the region recover, the UN has launched an appeal for $39.2 million.
But it may be a long time before people like Espino, his wife, and their four children have their old life back. A falling tree trunk destroyed the family's house.
"Felix has made the poorest people poorer," said Martha Lorena Mora, Oxfam's humanitarian response coordinator in Nicaragua. "We have seen people homeless, people without livelihoods. We have seen a region devastated environmentally."