Hurricane Nate

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Today, Sunday 8th October, I read about Hurricane Nate for the first time. As it enters the mouth of the Mississippi River. Here in Central America we have been reeling from the effects for the past week. The Nicaraguan Government normally prides itself (rightly – I was here in 1989 for Hurricane Joan and experienced firsthand the efficiency especially of the army in evacuating people) on its response to natural disasters but this time there was no prior warning and the president has been conspicuous in his absence from the media. Though I could have missed something as I have been without power for the past 5 days.

Now what we have suffered is of course nothing compared to the Caribbean islands and Florida – though parts of Nicaragua have had it far worse than us. It started with 3 days and nights of incessant rain – our hotel guests were remarkably understanding and laid back as it had quite a negative impact on their stay with us.

Thursday night was the big one. I was up most of the night together with Chepe, one of our night guards, who came to help save my house from flooding. A design fault (mine!!!) means that rain from part of my roof collects on the patio and from there goes straight into my bedrooms! Not good (as Donald Trump might say). Bowls and buckets had to be emptied every half hour…..into a garden already inches under water. At midnight I fell into an exhausted sleep leaving Chepe and the dogs to protect me. I woke Friday morning to a scene of utter devastation. I had been aware of some wind whilst asleep but the damage was unbelievable. Trees down everywhere, my lovely butterfly garden smashed to bits.

Below, the remnants of my roble (oak) tree which was completely beheaded by the wind

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Then on to La Reserva – a huge cedro tree lying right across Jan and Alan’s garden and about 20 more fallen scattered about. Fortunately structural damage to the buildings was light, a hole in the roof of Carol’s cabin and some minor issues at the group study center. I have to say the straw builds survived the ordeal remarkably well.

Below, this WAS Jan and Alans garden……

But some of La Mariposa workers were less fortunate. Noone here was hurt though two boys drowned in nearby Diriamba. Mostly they had flooding problems but also some roof damage. So Friday morning we called an emergency meeting, divided the workers into groups and off they went to repair each other’s houses (La Mariposa paid for the necessary materials – the bill has yet to come in!).

Jimmy, one of our teachers, lives with his family in a tiny house where the septic tank is just outside the kitchen. It collapsed with the rain so La Mariposa workers rushed to help fill in the stinking hole. One of the many issues with installing flushing toilets in “Third World”  situations.

Below, Jimmy surveying his collapsed septic tank and a group of Mariposa workers helping to make it safe.

One of the saddest moments was seeing the fallen Panama tree right outside Marlon’s house. It was the last of its kind in this region and we were attempting to care for it…building a retaining wall to protect the root system and putting in compost. Not enough, the roots simply could not withstand the quantity of moisture in the soil (this is what brings a lot of trees down) and then the wind was just too much. Four aricaris (small toucans) had their homes in this tree….just one more bit of lost habitat!

Below, the fallen giant

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Given the level of deforestation in general in Nicaragua we could ill afford to lose these precious trees. And the official response, as far as I can tell, has been to prune and cut any trees left standing in the urban area, clear the mud from the roads (swept in by the rains from surrounding fields which have no protecting vegetation) and fumigate, blasting houses with a mixture of diesel and supemetrina (supposedly to kill mosquitoes). Some of the campesinos too are cutting down any remaining trees unless they are avocadoes or mangoes.

Equally depressing has been the response of people I have talked to so far. Some of those who live in the least affected urban area seemed to view it all as a kind of video game. One evangelical assured me that it means the end of the world is nigh – but that had also just been predicted for the 21st Sept! The most common reaction, after helping each other out, was that there is nothing we can do except carry on as normal.

Well I am in agreement with that up to a point. We will replant the gardens, fix the roofs, and do our best to assist threatened wildlife.

But this is climate change. 12 years in Nicaragua and I have never experienced rain like this. This area normally does not get direct hits from hurricanes. As the President of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, said in relation to Irma………

“The science is clear. Climate change is real in the Caribbean we are living with the consequences of climate change. It is unfortunate that there are some who see it differently.”

My own opinion is we cannot leave this to politicians. There isn’t time, even when they have good intentions. We all have to act and fast. Plant trees wherever possible – cut down on things we know contribute to global warming such as travel, eating meat and palm oil. Buy less, consume less of everything – clothes, cars, computers, IPads……. If we don’t do it voluntarily I think we will be forced into it – for sure at this rate pretty soon there won’t be anywhere left to travel to!!!!!

Ending on a hopeful note….Mariposa workers replanting an uprooted capulin tree – this is an important source of bird food and we will do all we can to save it!

 

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Other Victims of Zika

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Restaurants and hotels in Granada are empty, the Masaya market weirdly deserted, even the popular Laguna de Apoyo is suffering. And, together with the rest of tourism in Nicaragua, La Mariposa is  reeling under the impact of zika. The outcome for us could well be fatal. The whole of 2016 saw a massive drop in the numbers of our students especially from the USA –  adverse publicity around the upcoming Nicaraguan elections (Nov 6th) may be partly responsible. But almost everyone is agreed that the main reason travel plans are being changed or cancelled is the zika scare.

If you are thinking of travelling to this part of the world then obviously you must take into account all of the risks – I would just enter a plea that in the case of zika, you read some of the more detailed evidence and commentaries, not just the scary headlines. On the 4th October 2016 there were precisely SIX  confirmed cases of Zika in the municipality of La Concepción (population over 50,000).

The link between the zika virus and babies born with microcephaly is far from proven and there are some important questions that need to be answered before firm conclusions can be drawn. My head is buzzing after several days doing internet research – one of major questions in my mind is why does Colombia (with the second greatest number of cases of zika) not show the same rise in numbers of microcephaly as the northeastern part of Brazil – and why only one part of Brazil? Mosquitoes don’t generally respect borders. Is it also pure coincidence that most of the mothers affected are the extremely poor or could malnutrition also be responsible? And that this is a region where pesticide use has been particularly intensive? Could any of these other factors be significant in causing microcephaly? And what of the existing 25,000 cases in the USA that have no link whatsoever with zika – what has caused them?

The Foundation for Children with Microcephaly lists as possible causes – rubella, fetal exposure to the herpes virus, mothers drug or alcohol abuse, toxoplasmosis, malnutrition….no mention of zika which seems rather odd (http://www.childrenwithmicro.org/causes.html). I have listed below some of the internet sites I have found helpful in putting this situation into some perspective, as well as the basic World Health Organisation and CDC sites.

At current rate of income, we have sufficient savings to survive another 6 weeks or so with all of the workers already on half time and everything else pared down to the bone . Our estimated income for October is $8000, the outgoings are $16000. So at some point, and not too long in the future, we have to make some hard decisions. At the very least we will have to close down the community and environmental projects, saving $1500 per week. A back up plan is to sell part of La Mariposa in the hope that we can keep the school and hotel going until the zika crisis passes. Complete closure is a last resort – I am having nightmares about 75 families losing their income and what will happen to 50 rescued dogs and 20 horses, not to mention the monkeys and parrots! We have already started trying to get some of them adopted. Of course some workers have been able to find other work and we have already lost some of our best Spanish teachers to call centers. Hopefully we can entice them back if things improve. But for the majority, especially those who do not speak English, it will not be so easy. Below is a photograph of our project for disabled children.

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Here at La Mariposa we rely on natural predators to control mosquitos, keeping the place clean of trash and stagnant water and regular applications around the gardens of lime, a strong repellent. The wonderful golden orb spider helps by spinning vast webs which are great mosquito traps.The number of cases of chikungunya last year (carried by the same mosquito as zika) was the same as in the community in general. We also have a natural repellent (alcohol, oil and cloves) which is very good though most people prefer to use DEET (see http://responsibletravelnicaragua.com/2016/02/10/why-war-on-zika-could-be-bad-for-your-health/).

Our advice to travellers is to use plenty of repellent, of whatever sort suits you best, wear cover up clothing and be especially alert around dusk when mosquitoes are at their most numerous.

for further reading:

NYTimes: What is Zika?

The Scientist: Brazil’s Pre-Zika Microcephaly Cases

The Globe and Mail: Zika defies predicted patterns

The Dominican News Online: Taking a Close Look at the Zika Microcephaly Question

New England Complex Systems Institute: Is Zika the Cause of Microcephaly?

The Saturday Paper: Disease Definitions linked to Pharmaceutical Companies

Reuters: Health and the Future of the WHO

Huffpost: Tackling Zika Requires Tackling Inequality

notes on Cypermethrin