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Pollution experts fly in to Honduras

WORLD BANK funded pollution and contamination experts arrived in the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa this week to help minimise the spread of disease in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch.

Jack Fritz, the World Bank's contamination specialist, and John Guerre, a crisis control guru from the US Federal Emergency Management Agency, arrived in the city on Monday. They will advise the Honduran Government on a national programme for pollution monitoring and on ways to clean up thousands of tonnes of highly toxic waste washed into rivers during severe flooding last month.

Speaking to NCE on Monday, World Bank task manager Steve Maber, who heads the project, claimed that thousands of cases of cholera have been found in the west of the country. There are also unconfirmed reports of people dying in the capital after coming into contact with river water.

The organisation fears that sickness will hit epidemic proportions unless urgent action is taken to limit the spread of the pollution which includes pesticides, heavy metals, fertilisers and raw sewage.

'We have to keep people away from the areas known to be hazardous. Many old mines and factories were flooded so cyanide and mercury levels are high, and there are also many canisters of pesticide and chemicals to contend with,' said Maber.

A lake of polluted water still covers the centre of Tegucigalpa due to the dam debris created across the Choluteca river (NCE 26 November). The World Bank has recommended that drag-lines replace the few army dozers now being used to clear the blockage. The project will be funded using money from an existing 5.6M World Bank environment development scheme.

Further World Bank funds of more than 63M are expected to be agreed by the end of the year for urgent reconstruction work, and a collective of banks and donor countries is due to meet today (Thursday) in Washington to discuss additional aid.

Meanwhile, the first Bailey bridges will be erected in the south of the country by the end of the week to give access to crops which survived the hurricane. In the west, however, the towns of Lempira and Intibuca remain cut off by road and there is little information about living conditions.

(See Commentary page 10)

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