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Daily News - Thursday, 01 November 2007

Tourism unaffected by Noel
Dominican tourism destinations like Puerto Plata, Samana, Punta Cana, La Romana, Bayahibe and Jarabacoa suffered heavy rains that caused some excursions to be suspended, but that was about it. Airport operations have continued as normal. The weather is clearing up in the Dominican Republic today, as forecast by the Meteorological Office (ONAMET). Most private schools are reopening as life moves back to normal in the DR for areas where flooding has not occurred.

President Fernandez
While the capital city was gradually returning to normalcy, outside of flooded areas, President Leonel Fernandez toured Santo Domingo province yesterday to get a first hand impression of damages.
The President said a full report on the situation would be forthcoming. "We are evaluating the damages to people, infrastructure, homes and agriculture to bring relief to the people affected by this situation," he told the press. Fernandez said that the government's priority is to rebuild the affected areas and deliver food and supplies.

Borrowed money
In mid-September this year, the government approved a supplement to the National Budget, authorizing RD$2 billion for a fund for national disasters. The funds were set aside from a surplus in tax revenues generated by the tax reform implemented as of January 2007 that gave the government a windfall of resources.
In addition to that amount, yesterday President Leonel Fernandez gave the green light to centralized and decentralized government departments to make purchases over US$200 million without fulfilling tender requirements. A clause within the procurement law in effect enables the government to shed tender requirements in the case of national disasters. The facility will remain in effect for 30 days, according to Decree 627-07, issued yesterday.
For more details on Procurement Law 49-06, go to http://64.233.169.104/...
The Presidency website says that the government is seeking emergency loans from the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank.
The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) representative in the DR has said that they would donate US$200,000 to relief efforts and that there is a US$500 million fund that can be drawn upon in order to help rebuild affected areas. Moises Pineda said that the IDB has a procedure in these situations and that the first stage includes working with local authorities and civil society officials.
Pineda said that since loans take time to be disbursed, the focus now is speed up the process of giving out loan money that has already been approved. Also, EUR10 million from the European Union that was originally budgeted for other purposes will be used towards rebuilding roads, with an additional EUR6.5million that had been designated for a disaster prevention program in the lower Yuna river basin. These announcements were made by Economy & Planning Minister Temistocles Montas, after a meeting with high-ranking government officials at the Presidential Palace, the diplomatic corps, international financing organizations and international cooperation agencies.

Death toll keeps rising
The ninth bulletin from the National Emergency Committee indicates that 56 people have died as a result of Noel, 27 are missing and a total of 58,328 people have been displaced. Of these displaced 17,895 have found refuge in government facilities while 40,433 are staying with families and friends. Also, 13,921 homes have been ruined, 52 communities are cut off, 21 bridges and roads have collapsed and 682 people have been rescued. General Manuel Antonio Luna Paulino says that 85% of the people who live below sea level have been moved and relocated. Luna has made a public appeal to boat-owners to help in rescue efforts in the lower Yuna river basin. He added that this area is completely flooded and that water levels are still rising. He said that anyone who is willing to help should contact the military commander in San Francisco de Macoris so they can be given the appropriate information. Aguacate and Arenoso are among the worst affected communities in the lower Yuna river basin area. Luna says that this is one of the worst cases of flooding seen in the DR in the last 40 years.

Helicopter shortage?
The Mejia administration spent US$75 million on the purchase of 36 helicopters in 2001, supposedly for relief operations, but the passing of Tropical Storm Noel shows that this could have been yet another corruption scam. As reported on the Nuria & Huchi radio talk show, the US Eximbank-financed, Sun Land Corporation deal with the former administration resulted in the country receiving only 16 of the 36 contracted helicopters, and most of these were inadequate for relief operations, as has become apparent when they were most needed.
Yesterday President Leonel Fernandez has asked neighboring countries to send helicopters to the DR to help with the evacuation efforts and the evacuation of people in flooded areas. According to the Emergency Operations Center (COE), 52 communities are isolated because of the storm. Fernandez called for the evacuation of 36 communities and a red alert has been maintained for 30 provinces.
Diario Libre reports that Venezuela is sending engineers and equipment to help rebuild roads and bridges. Venezuelan ambassador Francisco Belisario Landis made the announcement on behalf of his government. Belisario said that the Venezuelan embassy would become a humanitarian assistance center. US embassy press secretary David Searby said that the embassy was waiting to see what is needed.

Helicopters and more Eximbank financing
Bernardo Vega looks into the deal in his commentary in Clave newspaper today, mentioning that the Bush government has backed donations worth millions of dollars in equipment for Mexico and Colombia, but not for the DR that has instead resorted to financing these with commercial bank loans, backed by the guarantee of US export agency, US Eximbank. He also mentions the US$115 million Sun Land housing deal that a media scandal set back in November 2001, but apparently it was so far advanced that the government had to take on a debt of US$22 million for nothing in return. He also mentions the US$18 million in legal expenditures, administrative and banking costs, and insurance for the recently disclosed US$112 million deal with Sun Land for the construction of UASD facilities. This loan has been the subject of much press criticism for the government contracting 11 public works, and then accepting that only five would be built with the same amount of money. Vega wonders why, if the Fernandez administration has reduced the country risk substantially, did it not request financial packages from Citibank, Banco Popular or Banco de Reservas for the deal, given Sun Land's track record. "It looks like the government's new maxim is: "They were bad, so I have the right to be bad, too."
Vega comments that not only is Sun Land damaging with "scandalous loans," but that they also "have bad taste." He says that the sculpture that they gave President Fernandez' Global Foundation (Funglode) on 24 August 2006 is by a sculptor who sells his work on the Internet - www.frank-meisler.com. He comments that a dolphin sells for US$980 and a frog for US$1,450. He mentions that with so much profit obtained by the company at taxpayers' expense, the least they could have done was to donate a Botero.

SP calls for vaccination drive
The Ministry of Public Health has ordered the immediate vaccination of people displaced by Tropical Storm Noel. The Ministry also urged people in heavily affected areas to save water, but to make sure that their water receptacles are clean in order to prevent water-borne diseases. Vaccinations for tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, polio, smallpox and meningococcemia will be given to citizens. Children will have their vaccination cycles competed. Among some of the diseases and sicknesses that officials are on the look out for are diarrhea, typhoid fever, stomach aches, respiratory problems, viral hepatitis, malaria, conjunctivitis, leptospirosis and dengue. These diseases and sicknesses are already reported to have caused the death of one child.
Minister of Health Bautista Rojas Gomez traveled to Bonao in order to study the epidemiological situation in the area, which was severely affected by the storm. Rojas reminded citizens that water should be boiled before use and kept in clean containers. He said that if water couldn't be boiled, users should add five drops of liquid bleach per gallon and wait 45 minutes before drinking it. He added that when cleaning the house, bleach should also be added to the water and said that foods should be consumed within four hours after preparation. Mothers with babies should continue breastfeeding and as for trash, it should be tied in plastic bags and placed on the sidewalks.

Noel leads to fresh food shortages
A market decline in fresh food supplies is already apparent in Dominican supermarkets. Flooding affected major farming areas. Eggs, plantains, fruit, vegetables and chickens are in short supply because producers were not able to make their usual deliveries. The destruction of harvests and some roads that transporters use to bring the foods are expected to take their toll on fresh food supplies. Listin Diario reports that plantains are already scarce. Major plantations of tomatoes, rice, corn, yams, cassava, plantains, tobacco, Chinese vegetables, peppers, passion fruit, potatoes, lettuce, squash, peppers, melon, bananas, citrus fruits, beans and avocado suffered damages.

Prisoners were transferred
DR Attorney General Radhames Jimenez Pena ordered the temporary transfer of 1,000 prisoners located in the most vulnerable areas of the La Victoria Prison to the Najayo and Monte Plata prison and the Santiago justice courts building. The move of a third of the inmates at La Victoria prison was made for safety reasons, as a result of increasing water levels. The prisoners were transferred in OMSA buses under heavy military and police watch.

No power in the southwest
The repairs of high-tension lines in the country's southwestern region led to blackouts throughout Wednesday night, according to the State-run Electricity Companies (CDEEE). The repair efforts were concentrated in the Bani area, where high-tension lines were knocked down leaving Bani, Azua, Barahona, San Juan de la Maguana and other communities without power. CDEEE vice president Radhames Segura assured that technicians were working 24 hours a day in order to restore power. The CDEEE experienced a success when they managed to get a 69,000-volt high-tension wire across the river, to repair one that had been knocked down, but yesterday's winds and continued rains made repair efforts difficult. In all the CDEEE has announced that 322 of 453 circuits are back online, meaning that 76.3% of the power grid is back on track. There are still problems, nonetheless. EdeNorte is reporting 117 of 143 circuits online; EdeEste reports 113 of 148 and EdeSur reports 92 of 162.

And the total is...
Initial estimates of the monetary cost of the damages by Noel are RD$1.2 billion, says Public Works Minister Victor Diaz Rua. Diaz added that the largest amount of damage occurred in San Cristobal, Bani, Azua and Monsenor Nouel provinces, where 27 bridges were heavily affected, while six collapsed. In San Jose de Ocoa, the Palmar de Ocoa Bridge collapsed and mudslides occurred in neighboring La Cienaga, Palo de Caja and El Pinar. Also the bridges at La Gina, Monte la Jagua, Arroyo Tapado, Juma, Sabaneta, Barranca, Salcedo, Espaillat and La Vega, as well as three bridges in Monsenor Nouel that linked Bonao with La Vega and Piedra Blanca with Maimon.

Plate renewals until the 15th
Due to the inconvenience caused by storm Noel, the Tax Department (DGII) has given drivers until 15 November to renew their license plates. The extension will allow renewals without any fines. This is the second time that the DGII has extended the deadline. At first it was just extended until today, Thursday, but Noel has made it difficult for vehicle owners who are still recovering from the effects of the prolonged storm. According to Hoy, only 13% of drivers still need to renew their license plates.

Small business gets a chance
Small businesses have a chance to sell up to US$1 billion in goods and services to the American Federal and state governments as part of DR-CAFTA. Venezuelan economist Laura Rojas says that this a very attractive market considering that most government contracts are worth between US$2,500 and US$25,000 and that only 2% of those contracts exceed US$1 million and that 65% of the contracts are for US$25,000.

Big Papi a Big hit
Dominican slugger David "Big Papi" Ortiz became only the seventh player in Major League Baseball history to receive a perfect score in the annual statistics compiled by the Elias Sports Bureau, the company that handles MLB's record keeping. The formula was decided upon by owners and officials in 1981. Ortiz, who just recently helped the Boston Red Sox to win their second title in four years, and was part of the original 2004 BoSox team that broke the Curse of the Bambino, was ranked top amongst designated hitter in appearances, batting average, on base percentage, home runs and runs batted in. The only other players to receive a perfect score were Cal Ripken, Frank Thomas, Don Mattingly, Jeff Bagwell, Manny Ramirez and Albert Pujols.
In other sports news, Dominican Francisco Garcia scored 17 points on 8-15 shooting with six rebounds and three assists in 32 minutes of play. His efforts were in vain as the Kings lost to the Hornets 104-90. Dominican Al Horford, the Atlanta Hawks' first round pick, had a solid debut with 10 points and 9 rebounds in 31 minutes of play for the Hawks. The Hawks won 109-104 against the Charlotte Bobcats.
 
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