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Nicaragua Offers Meticulous Detail on Mitch Donations

Disaster: Nation has come under fire in past for misuse of relief funds. Report shows $15.7 million in aid so far.


MANAGUA, Nicaragua — After accounting for every dollar spent on paper clips and notebooks as well as every 1-pound package of donated rice distributed to victims of tropical storm Mitch, the government committee created to coordinate emergency aid efforts was dissolved Tuesday.

The 155-page report by the National Emergency Committee showed that Nicaragua has received $15.7 million in international aid and that $11.6 million more has been promised. Starting today, aid management is the responsibility of a new presidential commission that will, for the next 60 days, coordinate financing and rebuilding instead of simply resolving emergency needs.

"In response to the generosity of our foreign friends, we should not only manage aid with honesty and transparency, we should show the donors and friendly countries that we have done so," said Vice President Enrique Bolanos, who was in charge of the outgoing committee. "I hope we have achieved that."

In Nicaragua, the question of how international aid is distributed is important: Evidence that dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle stole donations after a devastating 1972 earthquake led to public indignation that contributed to his overthrow seven years later.

Further, Nicaraguans want to prove to the world that they are reliable administrators as a joint government-private sector commission prepares to visit Washington next month to ask for debt relief and help in raising the $1.6 billion they say is needed to rebuild this storm-ravaged country.

Besides the 3,045 Nicaraguans who died in flooding and mudslides--nearly one-third of the Central Americans killed by Mitch--41,420 were left homeless or suffered severe damage to their houses.

The country faces outbreaks of cholera, malaria and leptospirosis, a bacterium that causes respiratory problems. Seven people have died from these diseases, which are related to polluted and stagnant water, and 2,000 are ill.

The accounts that Bolanos turned over named every vendor and recorded the number of every receipt for the $18,775 in expenses that the committee incurred to distribute donations.

Distributions were recorded in lists, signed by each recipient, similar to voting records. The report also included a detailed inventory of donations still in warehouses, which are now under the control of the new commission.

Only $3.7 million of the total aid received and promised has been in cash. The rest is contributions such as food, clothing, medicine and helicopters on loan to distribute them.

The United States has been the single largest donor, contributing $3.1 million.

Acosta reported from Managua and Times staff writer Darling from San Salvador.

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