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Daily News - Tuesday, 06 November 2007

President Evo Morales visits
The state university, Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo (UASD) granted an honorary degree honoris causa to Bolivia President Evo Morales on Sunday, 4 November. Rector Roberto Reyna hosted the event. Speaking at the ceremony, President Morales said that he was grateful for the distinction in his name and that of Bolivia. He spoke of his life and his government's achievements and struggles. Reyna highlighted the fact that President Morales represents the principle of social inclusion. President Morales later visited President Leonel Fernandez at the National Palace.

No housing in high-risk areas
President Leonel Fernandez says that his government will not allow homes to be rebuilt in areas that are vulnerable to natural disasters. He announced a nationwide program to prevent the reconstruction of homes on unsafe land. "Let it be understood, we don't want to repress or coerce these people, but it is for their own good," said Fernandez. "The Dominican state has to be more demanding and systematic in applying this kind of measure," he said. Most of the people who died were caught by the unexpected heavy downpour on Sunday evening that led to major flooding that returned to river courses that had been dry for years.
Fernandez said that people who had been affected would be offered the option of relocation on state sugar council lands. He said that the government would be working with the Ministry of Environment to identify the areas that should be off limits for human habitation.
Nevertheless, Listin Diario reports that Santo Domingo municipal crews are helping residents in vulnerable areas along the Ozama River to repair their homes. The brigades are working in La Zurza, La Cienaga, Los Guandules, Gualey, Cristo Rey, La Puya and Simon Bolivar. As reported in the Listin, Isabel Meja, a resident of La Zurza, asked to be relocated. She said that nothing would be gained by repairing her dwelling because the next time it rains, mud will flood it again.

Early warning realities
Hoy is reporting that emergency rescue organizations in the DR lack the basic equipment needed to warn people living in vulnerable zones and prevent tragedies like Noel. These statements came from a Center for Emergency Operations official who wished to remain anonymous. The official said that if tomorrow a storm, causing the damage that Noel caused, were to hit the DR there is nothing the Civil Defense could do to prevent more tragedies. He added that in some communities Civil Defense workers don't even have the orange shirts that identify them. The National Emergency Commission needs 3,500 radios, but there are less than 300 nationwide and most of them are used by volunteers for their own personal use. During the beginning of rescue operations in the aftermath of Noel, the CNE only had 54 radios and workers used personal phones to communicate with each other, and that only if they had the money to buy phone cards. The Civil Defense only has offices in 18 of 32 provinces and of these only 10% have phones. Only six provinces have pick-up trucks, and the National District has a motorcycle. Only 16 municipalities have motorcycles and there is a shortage of transport equipment in the 138 municipalities. The same official reported an incident in the south where the Civil Defense was warned about Noel but didn't have the money to call and warn others, and another worker responded that a rescue truck didn't have tires.
In response, CNE director Luis Luna Paulino said that the CNE could prepare the country for natural disasters if it had an annual budget of RD$600 million. But in an embarrassing moment, when Luna was asked how much the CNE's budget would actually be, he walked away from the podium.
For an interesting discussion of preparedness and TS Noel, see http://www.dr1.com/forums/weather-beyond/68410-tropical-storm-noel-why.html

Emergency Bulletin 18
According to the Center for Emergency Operations (COE) 18th bulletin, 137 communities are still isolated, 85 people are dead and 48 are still missing. A total of 47 bridges and roads have been affected, although seven temporary routes have been opened. The bulletin indicates that 34% of the 110 aqueduct systems have been restored and 133 shelters are still housing 26,491 evacuees. In all 4,406 people were rescued according to the report and 66,608 people have been displaced.

Land use
The director of the UN's Secretariat for Disaster Reduction, Silvano Briceno pinpointed land use planning as one of the key ways to avoid human and property losses in the context of natural disasters. Internationally, he has called for disaster preparedness in light of global warming that spells an increase in disasters.
In today's Diario Libre, Ines Aizpun writes about Briceno's observation that many of the tragedies caused by Noel could have been avoided.
"Nobody can prevent a flood from happening, that is clear, but the immensely damaging effects can be mitigated," she writes. "In addition to recommending preventive measures such as better and more timely information, or the organization of victims and refugees, there is talk of land use planning. And that is the key to the issue," she stresses. "We are watching the growth of human settlements, disorderly and chaotic, without planning of minimum services, without any urban planning considerations, along highways and riverbanks. We watch them grow in an uncontrolled way, and we just assume they are part of the landscape. Unfortunately, Villa Altagracia, one of the municipalities most affected by Noel is a clear example of this," she points out.
"The municipal authorities are accomplices. It is not a secret about the difficulties and tolls that they impose on builders and promoters to approve their projects. Some benefit from the disorder and are able to build without having to meet rulings. Others are affected when trying to meet these. There are high-rise buildings in areas where they weren't planned, and complaints from residents that get ignored. Barrios without piped water, constructions along gullies, residents who build on top of streets, with the blessing of the municipal governments".
She concludes: "The political patronage that feeds our political parties is the first obstacle. Who will dare to put order in this chaos? The President says that measures will be taken so that the greater risk zones are not reoccupied. We all want to believe him."

Ocoa getting re-connected
The town of San Jose de Ocoa will get re-connected to the national road network today, Public Works Minister Victor Diaz Rua told the press. He said that a new access road to Ocoa has had to be built, since the old road was not reparable. Diaz explained that three alternative roadways are being built, and that because of geological faults and constant landslides the construction works are difficult. Due to the destruction of the road, workers have had to carry food, water, vegetables and other materials, some using mules and some carrying loads on their backs. Likewise, farmers are sending their crops to market using innovative baskets and transport methods, as reported in the press. Helicopters could be seen flying over Ocoa all day yesterday, but Civil Defense workers and town residents are complaining of the disorganization that has plagued the relief efforts.

Donations continue
The Administrative Council of the Dominican Petroleum Refinery (REFIDOMSA) said that they would donate RD$10 million to people who have been affected by Noel. Ruben Montas of REFIDOMSA said that the refinery is supporting all the Dominican families affected by the tragedy.
Oxfam International has made its first donation to the victims of Noel. Oxfam is spending EUR450,000 donated by the EU Humanitarian Office (ECHO) and has begun a fundraising campaign through its website, www.intermonoxfam.org. Oxfam's aid will be reaching 18,000 people and they have handed out water tanks, water filters, latrines, cooking materials, mattresses and other materials, according to Listin Diario. Oxfam is still assessing the situation in many areas in order to determine whether to increase their areas of intervention.
The United Kingdom government has sent helicopters to the DR to help with the relief efforts, and British Foreign Relations Minister David Miliband has sent his condolences to the Dominican Republic for the tragedy.
The Banco de Reservas has opened three bank accounts, in dollars, euros and pesos in order to receive donations for the emergency response.
The Dominican Embassy in Washington has set up a relief donation hotline. Call 202 332-8280 Ext. 2502. Or see Embassy of the Dominican Republic, in the United States
The Elliott Foundation has created a disaster relief fund and seeks to raise US$50,000 to help victims of Tropical Storm Noel flooding. To date, they have raised US$22,500. To contact the foundation, write to Reta Keeler at [email protected]

Food products still expensive
Onions, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, oranges and lemons are among the food products that have experienced a price hike after Tropical Storm Noel flooded several major food-producing areas last week. Also, reports indicate that demand for bread has increased by 30%. Cassava, plantain and pork prices did show a decrease and fruits like pineapple and grains have remained stable. Cassava, at RD$8 per lb last week is being sold for RD$4 this week. Potatoes are at RD$35 after costing only RD$19 last week. A pound of onions is being sold for between RD$28 and RD$45 while a pound of tomatoes jumped to RD$40 in some cases and lettuce has gone up to between RD$35 and RD$40 each. Sixteen ounces of peppers are now being sold at RD$50.
On the other hand, Jumbo is advertising plantains for RD$4.95 each, which is lower than the normal RD$7 per plantain price. Avocados are on sale for RD$3.95, and pineapples are RD$17.95 each. Green peppers are selling for RD$12.95 a pound, squash is going for RD$3.45 the pound, and passion fruit is half price for RD$22.95. These sales are for today only.
Plaza Lama is advertising pineapples today for RD$11.95 each, carrots for RD$6.95/lb. avocados for RD$3.95 each and oranges for RD$1.95 each, with green bananas at RD$0.95 each.
Bravo is advertising its usual Tuesday fruit and vegetable sale, with 30% off all products.

Back to school for many
Most students are going back to school today but the Ministry of Education says that 52 schools are still being used as shelters for people displaced by Noel. Diario Libre writes that initially 62 schools were used to house the victims and that at present, 52 schools are still operating as shelters. The Ministry of Education is preparing a plan to house refugees and get kids back to school in those areas.

Venezuela continues helping
The Venezuelan government is continuing to offer help to the victims of Noel and will send 500 prefabricated homes to the DR. Venezuelan ambassador Francisco Belisario Landis said that President Leonel Fernandez would decide where to locate the homes. Landis said that Venezuela will also donate 20 tons of food and medicines and added that discussions are being held so that fuel tankers can be sent to the DR.

US sends more helicopters
US Embassy Charge d'Affaires and Minister Counselor Roland Bullen says that the US will continue sending humanitarian aid to the victims of Noel. Bullen made this statement after two more US helicopters arrived in the DR to continue with relief efforts. The helicopters are part of the Southern Command program and made their way from Honduras. Eight US helicopters are currently helping with relief efforts in the DR. There will be 21 people responsible for flying the planes and maintaining them.
As reported in Listin Diario, USAID is also channeling US$600,000 in aid. USAID also announced the distribution of 6,000 sheets, 6,000 water bottles and 6,000 personal hygiene kits in affected areas. The Embassy also reports that their MAAG military assistance group is also contributing US$360,000, for a total of US$1 million in assistance.

Woman sentenced
Yudelkis Alexandra Baez was sentenced to 30 years in jail by a judge after being found guilty of burning her ex-husband and his pregnant mistress alive as they slept. The crime was committed on 23 March. The victim Maria Magdalena Jerez Cruz had two children and Rene de la Cruz had two children with Baez. The events occurred in Los Tres Brazos.

Baseball is back
Baseball was played over the weekend and games are scheduled for tonight at three stadiums nationwide. Games are scheduled for the Quisqueya Stadium (Santo Domingo) at 7:30pm matching Toros vs. Escogido. At the Cibao Stadium (Santiago), the Estrellas will match the Aguilas at 8pm, and at the Julian Javier Stadium (San Francisco de Macoris), Licey goes up against the Gigantes at 8pm. The standing of the Dominican Winter Professional Baseball League has Licey and Aguilas tied for the first place, followed by Gigantes, half a game away, the Estrellas 2.5 games away, and Escogido and Toros at three games away.
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