Tragedy from Mitch.
These pictures affect us and make a lasting impression because we all know at least one person who was caught in this misfortune. Hurricane Mitch struck in Nicaragua and Honduras, leaving a seemingly endless trail of destruction and devastation behind it. El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Guatemala have also been affected; and let's not forget the previous hurricane that destroyed 70% of Puerto Rico's crop just a month earlier.
The industry has experienced the loss of life among its workers and their families; and the ravage of coffee farms, warehouses, mills, roadways, and bridges has ensured that the damage will be prolonged. In Nicaragua alone, Mitch left 4,000 dead and 900,000 homeless; 100 bridges were destroyed and therefore much of the country's 1998/99 crop will probably go unharvested due to lack of proper infrastructure. (It is estimated that in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch, Nicaragua's coffee exports will inevitably be cut in half.) It has even been recommended that one area in Nicaragua be closed off and declared a national cemetery because an accurate count of the fatalities may never be reached.
Honduras bore the brunt of Mitch's destruction in Central America; over 7,000 people died and at least 40% of the coffee crop was destroyed. In El Salvador, 250 people died and around 84,000 more were left homeless; and now about 30 - 40% of El Salvador's coffee production is estimated to be lost. Another country to suffer from the ravages of Mitch was Guatemala, where some 25,000 acres were further damaged by high humidity, which encourages the growth of fungus - meaning that these trees will have to be pruned. According to the ambassadors of El Salvador and Guatemala, it will take years for these countries to rebound from this disaster.
In response to this tragedy, the staff of the Specialty Coffee Association of America has decided to donate a total of $6,000 to relief efforts. Many other national and international associations have set up relief funds and urged their members to express support.
Although the coffee industry was shaken up quite a bit, we can now relax, knowing that our world supply can still meet our demands. But let's not forget the harsh reality still afflicting the people of these damaged lands. Relief efforts from the coffee community are still very much needed; anything we can do will help to improves our business and those who are now poverty- and disease-stricken.
Tea & Coffee Trade Journal will continue coverage of Hurricane Mitch with an extensive report on the storm's aftermath in the February issue.