Isabel Santos, pictured below, is the president of the Local Emergency Committee in the community of El Banano. She is 41 years old, has four children and three grandchildren. Here, she talks about the work of Christian Aid partner CASM after Hurricane Mitch.
When I was a child, I’d never seen floods like we have now. During Hurricane Mitch, after four days of non-stop rain, the river rose so high that it broke the river banks and devastated the community.
It took houses, crops and livestock. We were able to leave in time, to get to higher ground. Because of this we saved our lives, but our cattle died.
My husband died just before Mitch, so after that tragedy I was left in the street with four children; one of whom has cancer, and my mother, who is disabled.
A month after Mitch I started to look for work, washing and ironing in San Pedro Sula (the nearest town). But the children were very afraid. I cried in secret so they wouldn’t see me.
The hardest thing was returning home and finding everything destroyed. We had to start again from scratch. Everyone was traumatised after Hurricane Mitch, and the children cried whenever it started to rain.
Six years ago CASM, Christian Aid’s partner, began looking for leaders to set up community groups who would be able to respond when there was an emergency. I felt obliged to join this group, because I remember well how difficult it was during Mitch to access the necessary information about what to do.
Now we have learnt our lesson. We know that we live in low-lying areas, which are extremely vulnerable to floods. we now understand the cycles of rain and flooding. To give an early warning is critical.
When there are emergencies the men go higher up on to the river banks with the cattle and household items to save what they can. We cannot leave anything behind as our things would get stolen, so the men stay behind to look after things.
The women, children and elderly take refuge in San Manuel School, which is the highest point in the community. Or they stay with other members of their family who live high up.
The Local Emergency Committee is helping a lot of people; we have an early warning system, and they inform us about the intensity of the rains and evacuation plans. They have taught us to prepare an evacuation pack, with food, documents, medicines and any other necessities.
We still have a deep fear of the floods that we suffer each year. But we have learnt that the thing that matter most is life, so it is important to evacuate in time and not worry about the material things, like our homes and crops.
After the training which we received through the DIPECHO funded project we are a different community. We know we must evacuate quickly, and we are able to do so.
The Local Emergency Committee has also helped us understand that it’s not only men who can make decisions. Our community has woken up, and we know that women are also important.
Thanks to DIPECHO funds and its on going support, Christian Aid seeks to strengthen the emergency response in communities such as Isobel’s, in the municipalities of Pimienta Potrerillos and San Manuel.
They are high-risk zones and have been highly vulnerable to the effects of flooding in recent years. Christian Aid is helping them recognise the areas of risk in their locality, how to put together response plans, how to implement early warning systems and put into practice good Disaster Risk Reduction methods.
They are also being supported to promote the empowerment of women and young people in their emergency response plans and raise awareness among the general public of the importance of preserving the environment.