Getting to the small town of El Sauce is no easy task, even when the weather cooperates. The road is narrow and bumpy, and it takes an hour to reach the small village. But after hurricane Ida hit the area in November 2009, the area is littered with downed trees and other debris created by the rush of water through the mountains.
Ida’s torrential rains caused landslides in El Sauce, washing away most of the crops for 145 families. Oxfam and the World Food Program are distributing food in El Sauce, and collaborating on ways to help the community recover.
Santos Alejandro Montander is a community leader and president of the Communal Development Committee, and a strong advocate and organizer for the community in the months after Ida. He, along with the other members of the committee, has helped coordinate the distribution of food rations to affected community members. On this day, the committee is distributing to each family 33 pounds of rice, 16 pounds of beans, and three liters cooking oil. It’s enough to sustain an average family for about a month.
“Currently, people subsist with the small amounts of corn that they gather, the beans that they have grown, and the help that comes to the community,” says Montander. He estimates that Hurricane Ida destroyed 80 to 90 percent of bean crops, along with most of the corn. Landslides and rains claimed 30 to 45 hectares (73 to 110 acres), which is roughly 50 percent of the fertile soil in this agricultural community. He says it could be years before these fields will be planted again.
Eugenio Ramos, whose house was flooded during Ida, points to markings left behind by water and mud on several dwellings. Outside his house sits a pile of dried mud, which he cleaned out after the hurricane. “I am happy because they have helped my family with food rations,” Ramos says. Before the storm, Ramos fed his family with what he could grow, selling the surplus to purchase miscellaneous items such as soap and cooking oil. Landslides took away about 25 percent of his land, so he can no longer grow as much food for his family—or have any surplus.
He and his wife, Selfa Edelmira Calle have eight children: four boys and four girls. Pointing to the cooking oil, Ramos says, “Now we don’t have to go out and buy it. It’s so expensive. ‘Imagine’, I said to my wife, ‘It’s three dollars a bottle!’”
By destroying their crops, hurricane Ida took away their nourishment, as well as any form of income for families like the Ramoses. With their fields eroded, debts to banks, and no income, the effects of Ida will last a long time for these farmers.
The second phase of the Oxfam America and WFP project, called “Food for Work”, will focus on rehabilitation. Community members are identifying projects like repairing drinking water systems like wells, and clearing out drainage canals, rivers, and streams of debris to help storm waters drain away instead of flooding their homes and fields. Workers will be paid in basic grains and cooking oil.