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Daily News - Monday, 04 June 2007

Rains ease, caution urged
Although the incessant rains have diminished, the Emergency Operations Center (COE) has seen fit to extend its Red Alert to the northwestern province of Montecristi. Last week the COE placed the provinces of La Vega, Sanchez Ramirez and Duarte (especially the Lower Yuna area) on Red Alert. According to Diario Libre, the city of Moca's water system was damaged and the tiny village of Los Memizos in Maria Trinidad Sanchez province sustained damage to its hydroelectric facility. A further 204 houses were reported damaged by the floods in the provinces mentioned and in Santo Domingo. The COE is still urging people living in low-lying areas to exercise caution.
Meanwhile, the government has announced a one billion peso relief fund for rebuilding the damaged areas. With the death toll now at 10, President Leonel Fernandez led a meeting of advisors from the COE, the Public Works Ministry, the Potable Water Institute (INAPA), the National Hydraulic Resources Institute (INDRHI) and the Housing Institute (Invivienda) and instructed them to begin reconstruction at once. The money will go to rebuild eight damaged bridges, 16 damaged aqueducts, and to help farmers who have lost their crops in the floods. The head of Invivienda was instructed to proceed with the relocation of displaced people who had fled to the levee in the Arenoso section of La Vega. According to Presidential Minister Luis Manuel Bonetti, the Minister of Public Health was instructed to start a campaign aimed at preventing an outbreak of infectious diseases.
The government announced a RD$1 billion fund to repair damages.

Guajimia needs more time
For months now, the country's newspapers have been discussing the need to channel, clean up and restore the ecology of Guajimia Creek and the surrounding areas, a major breeding ground for mosquitoes and thus a source of dengue fever. The recent rains have only accentuated the problems, sweeping two children to their deaths and providing the newspapers with dramatic pictures of housewives cleaning their mud-drenched living quarters and the seemingly endless amount of refuse carried in the creek. The Santo Domingo Water Authority (CAASD) is planning a clean up, but says it is not currently able to control the flooding. Jose Manuel Aybar, who is in charge of the project, told Listin Diario that the creek and its environs could not be dealt with until the families who live nearby are relocated. The initial relocation ceremony, scheduled for last Thursday, had to be postponed because floodwaters from the creek engulfed part of the setting to be inaugurated by President Fernandez. The 208 apartments will be distributed at a later date, once the flood damage is cleaned up. The entire project began six years ago and the first part was recently completed. The project, US$85 million financed by the Canadian government, seeks to relocate 1,390 families. Only then can work begin on the sanitary and hydraulic structures needed to clean up and channel the creek.

Shopping for airplanes in Brazil
President Leonel Fernandez has on his agenda for his summer trip to Brazil to visit the Embraer aviation company to look into the purchase of a fleet of airplanes for the Dominican aviation. As reported in El Dia, US$45.6 million in commercial bank financing, or about 80% of the global cost of the Super Tucano AT-26 airplanes that are said to cost US$9.5 million each, would also be secured from Brazilian sources.

DR and malnutrition
The United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon has called child malnutrition a "moral issue" and a "critical economic concern." Ban Ki-moon spoke at the launch of the report "The Cost of Hunger: Economic and Social Impact of Child Malnutrition in Central America and the Dominican Republic." The report was prepared by the UN's World Food Program and the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC, or CEPAL in Spanish), and says that 14% of children in the region suffer from malnutrition. The report says that this costs the region US$6.7 billion or 6.4% of GDP. Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras were the most critical countries, and the Dominican Republic was situated in the middle of the group, below Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The study traces six decades of nutritional history. The new study has found that child undernutrition in Central America and the Dominican Republic in 2004 alone cost those economies US$6.7 billion - or 6.4 percent of the region's entire Gross Domestic Product (GDP) - a burden that severely undermines international and national efforts to eradicate hunger and poverty.
"This study is a wake up call to the international community that widespread child hunger is not only a moral and humanitarian issue, but has economic consequences as well," said WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran.
See http://www.eclac.org/cgi-bin/getProd.asp?xml=...

Hepatitis warnings
The Gastroenterology Society is warning people about the dangers of undetected Type B and C Hepatitis. Not only that, but 905 of patients diagnosed with the illness do not follow their treatment plans. In an alarming report in Listin Diario, Dr. Jose Gonzalez Holguin, the president of the society, has warned that approximately 1.5% of the population is suffering from Hepatitis C and 75% of them are not aware of it. As a result, a large number of people develop cirrhosis and cancer of the liver and this in turn has an impact on the country's productivity. The good doctor estimated that 5% of the population is infected with Type B hepatitis, which can degenerate into cancer and lead to death. During his talk at a dinner celebrating the World Digestive Health Day, Dr. Gonzalez said that the scenario is even worse since only 10% of people suffering from the illness are receiving treatment. He also pointed out that the disease could be transmitted through the transfusion of contaminated blood, and emphasized the need for continued vaccination programs for school children.

TINSTAAFL at the bank
That well-known saying, "There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch", now applies to local banks. Apparently there are no more "free services" according to Listin Diario. Nowadays, bank reports contain multiple mentions of 'commissions and services', and 'other income' as a way of explaining income that does not come from traditional banking activities. The clients' bank statements reflect these charges. For example if a customer has a checking account and asks the bank to hold it, there will be a charge of between RD$25 and RD$50 for the service, and if the client wants the statement sent to the office, the concept is different but the charge remains. Even inactive accounts generate money. Cashing checks for large amounts, such as RD$500,000 or more, are subject to a charge of 0.005% for the service. This practice bothers the exchange houses since they need large amounts of cash and this sort of additional charge takes a bite out of their profits. In 2006, the Superintendent of Banks reported that the commercial banks received RD$6.6 billion for services, and for 'diverse income' the banks reported income of RD$2.59 billion. TINSTAAFL.

DR uses a lot of ballpoints
The Dominican Republic consumes about 40 million low-cost ballpoint pens a year, but production here ceased in 1985. Low-cost pens from Mexico and Europe, as well as increasing manufacturing costs were the reasons for the closure. Most of the local market is supplied from Mexico. While Paper Mate is still the market leader, other brands such as Bic, Faber-Castell, Pelican and Stabilo also have important market shares. Listin Diario points out that illiteracy is inversely proportional to the consumption of cheap ballpoint pens: More pens means less illiteracy.

Income up and so is inflation
According to figures from the Central Bank, the money earned by the poorest families is not sufficient to cover the cost of basic foodstuffs. Over the last three years, while food prices have risen by 48.8%, salaries have risen by just 40%. Between December 2003 and April this year, the cost of the very basic family food basket went from RD$4,899.82 up to RD$7,292.38. The minimum wage has been increased twice, by 25% and most recently by 15% during this period. However, when this is compared with the national average for families, the food basket is priced at RD$18,538.39 and the gap between the haves and have-nots is enormous. Even the highest-paid minimum wage earners would only have enough for about 40% of the "national basket".

C-sections are more risky
According to statistics, there is a marked increase in health risks associated with C-section births. According to El Caribe, data shows a 12% to 20% increased risk of death over normal births. According to the paper the increased risks are due to post-partum infections, damage to the uterus and cardiac and pulmonary arrests. According to Enriquillo Matos, the president of the Dominican Medical Association (CMD), this reality "is a delicate inconvenience within gynecological-obstetric medicine; we must try and substantially reduce the number of caesarian section births in the Dominican Republic." Data from the 1970s, a time when there were fewer C-sections, indicates that the death rate was lower. In the Dominican Republic, most of these deaths occur in private health facilities. Of the average 300 deaths each year, those occurring in women who gave birth by caesarian section were as much as 20% greater in number than for normal births.

Dominican brain drain
Apparently the Dominican Republic is losing some of its best and brightest. According to Listin Diario, 28% of Dominican immigrants to the United States and 17% of immigrants to Europe are college educated. The paper reports that lack of opportunities, worsening personal security, and a decrease in the quality of life - especially for the middle class - are the main reasons given for immigrating. Neither the universities nor the government have any really clear figures on this issue, but a UNESCO report says that 80% of students who go overseas to get advanced degrees remain outside the country. One of the most criticized aspects of the "real world" of the Dominican labor market is the "buddy system", according to those interviewed.

Fill 'er up! Oops!
The National Drug Control Department (DNCD) seized a planeload of cocaine in La Romana's International Airport on Friday. The pilot had landed the small plane with its cargo of 33 kilograms of drugs for refueling. The Cessna 172 was piloted by a Dominican, Federico Guillermo Polanco Rios, who was accompanied by an Argentinean, Mario Enrique Cersosimo. The flight originated from El Higuero International Airport at La Isabela in Santo Domingo and was on its way to San Juan, Puerto Rico, according to the head of the DNCD, Major General Rafael Radhames Ramirez Ferreira. The two men involved were sent to Santo Domingo for questioning after being sentenced to preventive custody by a court in La Romana.

Former prosecutor cites penalties
The Higuey land case involving protected areas within the National Park of the East, supposedly undergoing title processing, has taken another turn. According to a former prosecutor for the Ministry of the Environment, Tourism Minister and realtor Felix Jimenez is subject to several penalties. In fact, according to a report in Diario Libre, Jimenez should be fired and then prosecuted for violating the Protected Area Law. Former prosecutor David La Hoz said that Law 64-00 contains three articles penalizing officials who use their office to violate the laws. The first one states that the accused person should be fired. In this case, according to La Hoz, there is shared responsibility since it involves both Jimenez and the advisers who recommended the approval of a hotel unit with a density of 40 rooms per hectare within the National Park of the East.
In a press conference today on occasion of announcing a plan with the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources (Indrhi) for the management of water sources in tourism zones, Jimenez said that his office did not authorize the construction of the hotel in National Park of the East land. Rather what he did was express the 'no-objection' of the Ministry to the construction, as reported in the Listin Diario.
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