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News for the Week of December 14, 1998
December 14, 1998
Hurricane Mitch Relief
MSF continues to deliver medical care and relief supplies to the most affected regions of Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
"Although the conditions we saw were not as serious as we had feared, the state of the water and sanitation in these communities left much to be desired. With contamination of water supplies from the flooding, inadequate access to clean water, and insufficient numbers of functioning latrines, the villages we visited were in a very precarious situation. Only luck and fate had so far prevented large epidemics of water-borne diseases, such as cholera, which can kill in just six hours without treatment. These communities need help now to improve basic water and sanitation - services which in the United States we are fortunate enough to be able to take for granted. By improving the water supplies, reinforcing the use of chlorination, and ensuring the availability of latrines that won't contaminate the water supply, we can prevent the epidemics that are lurking around the corner."
In El Salvador, MSF team members continue to monitor the regions most affected by Hurricane Mitch by addressing health, water, and sanitation problems. To date, 45 basic health kits have been distributed across the country to regions most in need.
Southwest China Hit by Earthquake
On Friday, December 4, southwestern China was hit with an earthquake registering 5 to 6.2 on the Richter scale. The earthquake killed five people in the mountainous region on the border between the provinces of Yunnan and Sichuan. Four-thousand people were injured, and some 25,000 have been left homeless. An MSF team stationed in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan, set out immediately following the quake to bring aid to the stricken area. They found local hospitals - some of them damaged by the earthquake - admitting hundreds of patients every day. The hospitals do not have much capacity, and although night temperatures are dipping below freezing, patients are living in temporary shelters on the ground. Frequent aftershocks have made people afraid to return to their damaged homes. MSF is providing blankets, basic medical supplies, water containers, and plastic sheeting for temporary shelter, to various mountain villages.
Humanitarian Situation Deteriorating in Kosovo
More and more Albanian refugees are returning to their homes in Kosovo from Montenegro and Albania, where they had fled fighting during the summer and fall of this year. Most internally displaced persons have also returned to their home villages. But as winter draws closer and snow begins to fall, villagers whose homes are higher in the mountains and more isolated will soon be harder for relief teams to reach. In addition to continuing to provide medical consultations throughout Kosovo, MSF teams are attempting to supply these remote, higher-altitude villages with sufficient relief materials as quickly as possible so that they will have reserves when deeper snows hit.
AIDS Information Center Opens in Cuba
An MSF information and coordination center was officially opened in Havana, Cuba, on Tuesday, December 1, World AIDS Day. The center is now fully operational and is providing counseling, health-care information, and expanded telephone hotline hours. A photographic exhibition about AIDS by a Cuban photographer opened during the celebration as did a display of sixteen Cuban panels from the international AIDS quilt project in which people pay tribute to loved ones who have been lost to the disease.
10-Year Commemoration of Armenia Earthquake Relief
On December 7, 1988, a catastrophic earthquake struck Armenia. A tragedy of enormous proportions, the earthquake claimed the lives of at least 60,000 people. The event has been called a turning point in history, resulting in the "fall of the humanitarian wall" in what was the USSR, and for the first time, non-government organizations were allowed to enter the Soviet bloc in order to give assistance. Three days after the earthquake, on December 10, MSF was one of the first international non-government organizations to arrive in Leninakan (Gyumri), Armenia, to help.
"Within minutes, many of these people had lost everything. Their houses had been crushed or knocked over like a house of cards. Everything had come crashing down - their past, their present and their future. We felt particularly close to the people we worked with. Although the population was very traumatized, at the same time they appreciated the fact that people had come from so far away to help them. Over and over again they would say to us: "The aid you bring is good, but what we will never forget is the fact that you came here for us." You could see this in the way people looked at you. People had tears in their eyes and at the same time they overflowed with hope - because they had not been forgotten, because the whole world had been mobilized to help."