Emergency fund appeal for devastated Nicaraguan indigenous community

From the University of Arizona Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program via the Rainforest Foundation, Sept. 7:

On September 4, 2007, Hurricane Felix hit land on the Northeast Coast of Nicaragua as a level 5 hurricane. Initial reports have told the story of the eye of the hurricane passing directly over Awas Tingni, resulting in complete devastation of all the homes in the community, as well as destruction of all nearby crops and transport routes. Rains have continued since the hurricane hit, causing floods and ongoing dangerous conditions in the entire region.

As many of you know, Awas Tingni is a Mayangna (Sumo) indigenous community located on the Atlantic Coast in Nicaragua. The community is best known internationally for the landmark case decided by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Mayagna (Sumo) Community of Awas Tingni v. Nicaragua, where after a long legal battle, the community successfully gained legal recognition of its customary land tenure.

The Awas Tingni community is located in a densely forested area. Homes in the village are primarily single rooms covered in thatch or tin, transport is primarily by canoe, and many of the family members are sustained by food grown on their family and community owned and maintained plots. As members of the legal team that has worked and lived alongside this community for over 12 years to facilitate their struggle to maintain control of their land rights, we are now faced with a call to help our friends in Awas Tingni to survive this natural disaster…

Funds to Rebuild

We are collecting financial contributions that will be used to rebuild the community. We will work with the community leaders and local relief organizations to assess whether the funds would be best distributed immediately or saved for future rebuilding efforts. Immediate needs will include basic food, shelter, and medical needs. Later, in addition to reconstructing their homes and crops, the community will need to rebuild its school, health center, and other communal gathering places. Any amount of financial contribution will be appreciated, and used solely for rebuilding efforts in Awas Tingni. Your contributions will be tax deductible, and you will receive a written receipt for your contribution. Donations may be made through the Rainforest Foundation-U.S., which is a partner of the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program and has been supporting the Awas Tingni community directly in its effort to protect its lands and environment.

Please make checks payable to the Rainforest Foundation, earmarked for Awas Tingni and send by mail to:

Rainforest Foundation US
32 Broadway, #1614
New York, NY 10004

Or make a contribution securely online through PayPal at the Rainforest Foundation US website: www.rainforestfoundation.org

See our last posts on Central America and Nicaragua.

  1. More news from Nicaragua’s devastated Miskito Coast
    From a Sept. 7 AP report:

    PUERTO CABEZAS, Nicaragua September 7, 2007, 11:59 p.m. ET · Hundreds gathered Friday on a beach in a remote jungle region of Nicaragua to mourn the victims of Hurricane Felix and condemn the government for doing too little to search for anyone who might have survived.

    Tensions are rising between residents of the autonomous region hit by the storm and the central government as villagers complain they weren’t given enough advance warning about the monster storm and are getting little aid in its aftermath.

    A government official refused to give scarce gasoline Friday to 48-year-old Zacarias Loren, whose 19-year-old son was with a group of 18 people diving for lobster off a distant cay when the storm hit.

    “These lives are important, too,” Loren said. “They might be floating alive, but they are out there alone.”

    One woman, a 19-year-old whose mother had been working on a cay selling food and supplies to lobster fishermen, cried out under the gray sky: “Why did you have to go? Why didn’t you take me with you?”

    Disgruntled villagers came together on beach the region’s main town, Puerto Cabezas, which has become the hub of relief efforts and official search missions for any survivors. Others set out on their own to try to find missing loved ones.

    The eye of the hurricane passed directly over the Honduran-Nicaraguan coast, devastating seaside villages and island fishing hubs that were home to the Miskito Indians, descendants of Indians, European settlers and African slaves. The region has a long-standing mistrust of the central government, and is reachable only by plane or canoe in good weather.

    Survivors from fishing communities off the coast said Nicaraguan authorities sailed by and sent out evacuation warnings only hours before the eye hit. Many lobster divers were already out at sea by then, and the waves and wind were too strong for their primitive sailboats. Hundreds of others were trapped on tiny distant cayes swallowed whole by the violent storm surge.

    The death toll has ranged from 49 to more than 100, but no one has been able to tally the missing. It is likely no one will ever know how many lives were lost in the Category-5 storm.

    Further on-the-scene updates are available from Sub-Ocean Safety, a Louisiana-based solidarity organization for Miskito lobster-divers.