How to Rebuild a Country

Chet Thomas says it happens one village at a time
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Traveling secondary roads in Honduras (picture someone riding a bucking bronco) is where I receive a firsthand lesson on the toll taken by Hurricane Mitch in October 1998. The lesson came from Chet Thomas, executive director of the Honduran nonprofit Christian development agency, Proyecto Aldea Global (PAG; in English, Project Global Village). We enter a town called La Libertad, where in 1998 a wall of water, mud, and trees had poured down the mountain and swept a hundred people away with it.

"We found lots of bodies in El Cajon [reservoir]. It's an old town, about 35,000 people," Thomas says. "Half the town was under water. To this day, two-story buildings are one-story buildings because of the mud residue." Moving higher into the mountains where the coffee farmers live, Thomas explains, "Mitch dropped four feet of water in six hours and it had to come down off these mountains, and did so in a way that took everything with it."

The hurricane destroyed all the export crops. The banana companies poured over $300 million into the recovery. It wasn't until 2001 that banana production reached pre-Mitch levels. The same was true of shrimp fishing. Coffee is a different story. Vietnam has emerged as one of the world's main coffee producers, which has sharply dropped prices everywhere. This is good for consumers, but disastrous for a country like Honduras, where coffee accounted for 40 to 50 percent of exports. Worse, most of Honduras's coffee producers are small farmers, who harvest the crop on a half-acre of mountainous terrain, and for whom the drop in price has created a disaster.

Even three years after Mitch, more than 100,000 displaced people were waiting for new homes while living on patches of dirt in houses made of plastic. ...

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