THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
HURRICANE MITCH: THE UNITED STATES RESPONDS TO CENTRAL AMERICA February 16, 1999
Following their visits to Central America in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch, the First Lady and Mrs. Gore today announced the President's supplemental package of nearly $1 billion in emergency disaster assistance. The supplemental package, which was developed in close bipartisan consultation with the Congress, will be directed primarily to help the Central American nations cope and rebuild after Hurricane Mitch, the worst natural disaster in their history.
The United States responded immediately after the Hurricane hit late last October, and has continued to maintain these efforts in the months that have followed. To date, the United States has already provided $300 million in aid. U.S. military and civilian agencies have played a critical role, working with the governments of Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Costa Rica and a number of international and local non-governmental organizations to help provide food, water and relief supplies; to distribute seeds and tools; to repair water systems and road and bridge networks; and to provide medical assistance.
Key components of U.S. assistance to date are:
In the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, President Clinton directed personnel and resources from the military and civilian agencies of the U.S. government to support relief and rehabilitation efforts in Central America.
U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)
USAID has provided almost $92 million in food and other relief assistance.
On February 11, USAID provided $4.1 million to the International Organization for Migration to construct and administer ten transitional shelters for displaced people in Honduras. This assistance will provide alternative shelter to an estimated 25,000 people living temporarily in schools, allowing the schools to open by March 1.
This new assistance is in addition to $30 million from USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance to provide health care, repair water and sanitation systems, restore agricultural production and support road rehabilitation activities. The funds were also used to transport and deliver a variety of relief commodities including shelter materials, water containers and blankets.
USAID has provided $52 million in food aid, meeting 50 percent of the overall food needs. Under the PL 480 Title II food aid program, USAID's Office of Food for Peace (FFP) will provide 60,000 metric tons of food to 800,000 Hondurans through next summer, 19,700 metric tons of food to 300,000 Nicaraguans for six months and 7,600 metric tons of food for 60,000 Guatemalans for six months. The total food allocation also includes a $1 million contribution to the World Food Program's appeal for El Salvador.
A grant of $5 million has helped revitalize small businesses impacted by the hurricane. Joined with a $12 million contribution from the Inter-American Development Bank, these funds will rebuild workplaces, reestablish inventories and generate employment.
U.S. Department of Defense
The Department of Defense has spent nearly $150 million to support relief and rehabilitation efforts in Central America.
At the height of the relief effort, 5,300 military personnel were in Central America, representing the four armed services and their reserve components. Today, Joint Task Force Commanders in Honduras and El Salvador remain active in the region, coordinating the U.S. military response. U.S. Active Duty, Reserve and National Guard forces will be present in Central America through September to build schools and clinics, drill wells and repair additional roads and bridges, as part of an engineer and medical field training exercise called New Horizons.
Military personnel rescued more than one thousand people trapped by flood waters and provided medical care and immunizations to over 35,000 people. They cleared major roads and bypasses, as well as erecting prefabricated bridges. Military personnel also repaired medical clinics and schools, and provided communities with safe drinking water by building wells.
Military aircraft, including 53 helicopters were deployed throughout the region to assist distribution and delivered more than 3.2 million pounds of food and more than 500,000 gallons of water.
DoD transported to the region almost 8 million pounds of food, clothing, medicine and other relief items donated by American citizens.
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
USDA is providing food aid and concessional loans, valued at $63 million.
USDA is delivering 120,000 metric tons of wheat for Honduras and Nicaragua, 60,000 metric tons of wheat for Guatemala and El Salvador and 50,000 metric tons of corn for the four countries. It will also provide $20 million in grants to Honduras and Nicaragua for the purchase of beans, vegetable oil, rice, and other basic commodities; and $10 million in Title I concessional loans for food purchases for El Salvador and Guatemala.
USAID has already identified an initial $120 million within its own budget to support reconstruction efforts in Central America by reprogramming existing food and other funding and reallocating recently appropriated fiscal year 1999 assistance. These funds will help rehabilitate transportation infrastructure, restore public utilities, support health care, reestablish crop and livestock production and revitalize the economic sector. Of this, USAID will channel $66.6 million to programs in Honduras, $32.4 million for reconstruction in Nicaragua, $16.0 million for El Salvador and $5 million for Guatemala. USAID has also engaged with the private sector to leverage contributions and investments in Central America reconstruction. In total, more than one dozen Cabinet agencies will be involved in the relief efforts: for example, the Department of Health and Human Services will continue to take active measures to advance public health, and the Department of Agriculture will assist with farming recovery and land use planning.
The International Monetary Fund has estimated that the external financing needs of Honduras and Nicaragua -- the two nations hardest hit by Hurricane Mitch -- will be approximately $1.4 billion over the next several years. Assisting these countries in filling this gap is essential to their recovery. Steps to do so include:
The United States and other creditor nations will relieve Honduras and Nicaragua from debt service obligations until 2001. The United States will urge other creditors to provide similar relief.
The Administration expects that the international financial institutions will also contribute substantial amounts to help meet external financing needs, as will the World Bank-managed Central American Emergency Trust Fund. The Administration will work with Congress to provide a significant contribution to this trust fund.
Combined, these efforts could provide more than $1.5 billion in debt relief. In addition, U.S. agencies will work with major donors and lending institutions to provide debt forgiveness of up to 67% of eligible debt for Honduras and up to 90% for Nicaragua.
On February 10, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and Citibank signed a $200 million loan facility for Central America and the Caribbean. Under this initiative, Citibank will extend medium and long-term loans to small and medium size businesses in the region. In addition to the Administration's Caribbean Basin Initiative enhancement proposal, the United States plans to submit to the Senate bilateral investment treaties with Nicaragua and Honduras.
The U.S. has granted Temporary Protected Status through mid-2000 to nationals from Honduras and Nicaragua who were present in the United States as of December 30, 1998. This will permit these individuals to legally reside and work here for the next 18 months. The U.S. has extended a stay of deportation for nationals from El Salvador and Guatemala through March 8, 1999. The U.S. is also actively considering measures to address the circumstances of certain individuals from the region with longstanding ties to the United States.