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Hurricane Felix Tears through Nicaragua; Local Communities Destroyed

September 5, 2007 – New York – As Hurricane Felix made landfall on Tuesday, pounding the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua, the impact of this category five storm reveals the situation of at-risk communities marginalized through discrimination and government neglect. As winds reach speeds of 160 miles per hour, wooden homes in Indigenous Miskito communities have been destroyed, leaving people exposed to the torrential rains. Thousand have fled to higher ground, but have no access to emergency shelter.

MADRE today emphasized that this hurricane and its ruinous effect on local communities are characteristic of a larger, disturbing trend. To date, the majority of such disasters worldwide have struck low-income countries, with women making up a disproportionate number of the poor and of affected communities. MADRE warned that climate change threatens to exacerbate this unjust situation: many scientists contend that hurricanes are increasing in force as sea temperatures rise; meanwhile, poor communities continue to be denied the tools for survival and recovery.

Vivian Stromberg, Executive Director of MADRE, said today, "The Miskito communities in the path of this hurricane have long been below the radar of the national government and will be further isolated by the damages of this storm. Reports have already begun to emerge of people killed by this storm, and there is no time to waste in the emergency response. Women's community based organizations, which have served these communities for years, are best-suited with the knowledge and ability to reach isolated communities and deliver aid where it is needed most. MADRE has already begun an effort to provide immediate support."

MADRE's partner organizations in Nicaragua have been severely damaged by Hurricane Felix. Casa Museo, a community center and museum to preserve and exhibit the work of Indigenous artists, has seen the bulk of its displays destroyed by flooding.

In 1998, these same communities were devastated by Hurricane Mitch, in which flooding and landslides killed more than 10, 000 people. In the coming days, the danger of flash floods and mudslides will persist, and Hurricane Felix is expected to continue inland towards Guatemala.

MADRE today stressed the essential role of women in recovery efforts. Women are often the primary care-takers for children, the elderly and the disabled, and are best able to determine the needs of survivors. Furthermore, MADRE emphasized that, as international relief efforts begin, priority must be given to equipping local community based organizations with the resources they need to respond effectively.

MADRE is in close communication with women leaders from Indigenous communities impacted by Hurricane Felix and has launched an emergency aid campaign through MADRE's Emergency and Disaster Relief Fund.

For more information on MADRE's Emergency and Disaster Relief Fund, click here:Emergency Fund.

For additional information on MADRE's urgent efforts to counter the damages of Hurricane Felix, click here: /index.php?s=2&b=20&p=53.

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Vivian Stromberg is MADRE's Executive Director, and her areas of expertise include women's economic development, US foreign policy, health care, popular education, sexual violence, human rights, and child development. She has thirty years of experience in responding to disasters, and she was on the ground during the relief effort after Hurricane Mitch in 1998. In recent years, MADRE has provided support to women's community based organizations in the aftermath of national catastrophes, such as the Indian Ocean tsunami and the earthquake in Pakistan.

Mirna Cunningham, Vice-President of the Indigenous Initiative for Peace and Director of the Center for Indigenous People's Autonomy and Development (CIPAD), was trained as a surgeon and teacher and has a Masters in Public Health. She is an Indigenous Miskita and a former member of the National Assembly of Nicaragua who also served as Minister of Health and as Governor of the North Atlantic Coast. Dr. Cunningham founded (and acted as the first female Chancellor of) URACCAN, the University of the Autonomous Regions of the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua, and served as the General Secretary of the Interamerican Indigenous Institute.