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Honduras

Honduras - US Consular Information Sheet
May 19, 2008

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Honduras is a democracy with a developing economy. The national language is Spanish, although English is often spoken in the Bay Islands. The climate is genera
ly pleasant and temperate, with dry and wet seasons. During the dry season from February into May, widespread forest fires and agricultural burning can lead to severely degraded air quality throughout the country possibly causing respiratory problems and airport closures. The terrain includes mountainous areas, coastal beaches, and jungle lowlands. Facilities that would normally be used by tourists, including hotels and restaurants, are generally adequate in the capital city of Tegucigalpa, in San Pedro Sula, Tela, La Ceiba, the Bay Islands, and near the Copan ruins. Large sections of the country, however, lack basic public services or even a governmental presence. Currency exchange is readily available at banks and hotels in the major cities. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Honduras for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A U.S. passport valid for at least three months from the date of entry is required to enter Honduras. Though not required by law, some travelers have reported difficulty departing Honduras using a passport with less than three months of validity beyond the date of departure. A visa is not required, but tourists must provide evidence of return or onward travel. Parents should not rely on birth certificates for their children’s travel; rather, prior to travel they should obtain U.S. passports for infants and minors born in the United States. U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a photocopy of their U.S. passports with them at all times, so that if questioned by local officials proof of identity and U.S. citizenship are readily available.

In June 2006, Honduras entered a “Central America-4 (CA-4) Border Control Agreement” with Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. Under the terms of the agreement, citizens of the four countries may travel freely across land borders from one of the countries to any of the others without completing entry and exit formalities at Immigration checkpoints. U.S. citizens and other eligible foreign nationals who legally enter any of the four countries may similarly travel among the four without obtaining additional visas or tourist entry permits for the other three countries. Immigration officials at the first port of entry determine the length of stay, up to a maximum period of 90 days. Foreign tourists who wish to remain in the four country region beyond the period initially granted for their visit are required to request a one-time extension of stay from local immigration authorities in the country where the traveler is physically present, or travel outside the CA-4 countries and reapply for admission to the region. Foreigners “expelled” from any of the four countries are excluded from the entire “CA-4” region. In isolated cases, the lack of clarity in the implementing details of the CA-4 Border Control Agreement has caused temporary inconvenience to some travelers and has resulted in others being fined more than one hundred dollars or detained in custody for 72 hours or longer.

Dual Nationality: Honduran law permits dual nationality only for minors under the age of 21 and those Honduran-born citizens who have become naturalized citizens of other countries. U.S. citizens who become Honduran citizens by naturalization are not considered to have dual nationality under Honduran law. However, becoming a Honduran citizen will not cause U.S. citizens to lose their U.S. citizenship and all the accompanying rights and privileges. Dual nationals, in addition to being subject to all Honduran laws affecting U.S. citizens, may be subject to other laws that impose special obligations on Honduran citizens. For more information, please contact Honduran Immigration in Tegucigalpa (telephone 504-238-5613), San Pedro Sula (telephone 504-550-3728), Roatan (telephone 504-445-1226), La Ceiba (telephone 504-442-0638), or Puerto Cortes (telephone 504-665-0582).

For further information on dual nationality for U.S. citizens, see the Bureau of Consular Affairs dual nationality flier.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Political demonstrations sometimes disrupt traffic, but they are generally announced in advance and are usually peaceful. Travelers should avoid areas where demonstrations are taking place, and they should stay informed by following the local news and consulting hotel personnel and tour guides. Demonstrators frequently block public roads to press for concessions from the government of Honduras. These demonstrations may last several hours and the government rarely seeks to disperse the demonstrators. U.S. citizens should never try to pass such roadblocks. While the Honduran side of the Honduras-Nicaragua border has been largely cleared of land mines, travelers should exercise caution there. For more information, we strongly encourage travelers to visit the U.S. Embassy's web site at http://honduras.usembassy.gov/ and click on Crime and Security Matters. For the latest security information, American citizens traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States, or for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME: Crime is endemic in Honduras and requires a high degree of caution by U.S. visitors and residents alike. U.S. citizens have been the victims of a wide range of crimes, including murder, kidnapping, rape, assault, and property crimes. Sixty-two U.S. citizens have been murdered in Honduras since 1995; only twenty cases have been resolved. Four U.S citizens were murdered in Honduras in 2007, six in 2006, and ten in 2005. Kidnappings of U.S. citizens have occurred in Honduras, including two incidents in 2007. Poverty, gangs, and low apprehension and conviction rates of criminals contribute to a critical crime rate, including horrific acts of mass murder. With a total of 3,855 murders in 2007, and a population of approximately 7.3 million people, Honduras has one of the world’s highest per capita murder rates.

U.S. citizens are encouraged to follow local news reports and seek additional information in the resources listed above. Criminals and pickpockets also target visitors as they enter and depart airports and hotels, so visitors should consider carrying their passports and valuables in a concealed pouch. Two-man teams on medium-size motorcycles often target pedestrians for robbery. There have also been reports of armed robbers traveling in private cars targeting pedestrians on isolated streets. The Honduran government conducts occasional joint police /military patrols in major cities in an effort to reduce crime. Problems with the judicial process include corruption and an acute shortage of trained personnel, equipment, staff, and financial resources. The Honduran law enforcement authorities' ability to prevent, respond to, and investigate criminal incidents and prosecute criminals remains limited. Honduran police generally do not speak English. The government has established a special tourist police in the resort town of Tela and other popular tourist destinations, including Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, La Ceiba, and Roatan, but the number deployed is small and coverage is limited. The San Pedro Sula area has seen occasional armed robberies against tourist vans, minibuses, and cars traveling from the airport to area hotels, even sometimes targeting the road to Copan. Armed men have forced vehicles transporting tourists off the road and robbed the victims, occasionally assaulting the driver or passengers. In past years, several U.S. citizens have been murdered in San Pedro Sula and La Ceiba shortly after arriving in the country. Assaults in these areas may be based on tips from sources at airport arrival areas, so visitors are strongly urged to exercise caution in discussing travel plans in public.

Copan, Roatan/Bay Islands, and other tourist destinations have a lower crime rate than other parts of the country, but thefts, break-ins, assaults, and murders do occur. Exercise particular caution walking on isolated beaches, especially at night. Coxen Hole on the island of Roatan should be avoided after dark.

The Government of Honduras has a very limited presence in Northern Olancho, Colon and Gracias a Dios Departments, which are well known for lumber and narcotics smuggling and violence. Travelers in those areas should use extra caution. See the description of highways/areas to be avoided in the Traffic Safety and Road Conditions section below for details.

Incidents of crime along roads in Honduras are common, including carjacking and kidnapping. There have been frequent incidents of highway robbery on a number of roads including Limones to La Union, Olancho (route 41) via Salama and northward to Esquipulas Del Norte. For more information, please see the section below on Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.

Travelers should always drive with their doors locked and windows rolled up to avoid potential robberies at traffic lights and other places, such as congested downtown streets. Avoid driving at night. All bus travel should be during daylight hours and on first-class conveyances, not on economy buses. Please choose taxis carefully, and note the driver's name and license number. Instruct the driver not to pick up other passengers, agree on the fare before you depart, and have small bills available for payment, as taxi drivers often do not make change.

Do not resist a robbery attempt. Most criminals have weapons, and most injuries and deaths have resulted when victims have resisted. In 2004, an American citizen was murdered while attempting to flee an armed robbery in progress and another American was shot while resisting a carjacking. Two American citizens were murdered while resisting armed robberies in 2005.

Do not hitchhike or go home with strangers, particularly from nightspots. Whenever possible, travel in groups of two or more persons. Use the same common sense while traveling in Honduras that you would in any high crime area in the United States: do not wear excessive jewelry; do not carry large sums of money, or display cash, ATM/credit cards, or other valuables you do not need.

Avoid walking at night in most areas of Honduras. Do not hike alone in backcountry areas, or walk alone on beaches, historic ruins, or trails.

Individuals and groups should register their travel plans with the State Department via the Internet at the Department’s secure travel registration web site, https://travelregistration.state.gov/. Travelers may also register by sending passport, date of birth, and emergency contact information to the American Citizens Services Unit of the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa via fax at 011-504-238-4357, or e-mail at usahonduras@state.gov prior to travel. Individuals as well as groups should always keep in their possession a photocopy of their U.S. passport data page, carry an additional copy in their suitcase, and leave a copy at home with a friend or family member.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: If you are the victim of a crime while in Honduras, contact local authorities immediately, either directly or through the national police emergency number: *199. In addition to reporting to the local police, please contact the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa or the Consular Agency in San Pedro Sula for assistance. The theft of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately. The Embassy and Consular Agency staff can provide you with information about medical care, contacting family members or friends and explaining how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of most crimes are solely the responsibility of local authorities, Consular staff can provide you with a list of attorneys if needed. See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical care in Honduras varies greatly in quality and availability. Outside Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, medical care is inadequate to address complex situations. Support staff facilities and necessary equipment and supplies are not up to U.S. standards anywhere in Honduras. Facilities for advanced surgical procedures are not available. Wide areas of the country, including the popular tourist areas of the Bay Islands, do not have a general surgery hospital. Ambulance services are limited in major cities and almost non-existent elsewhere. Emergency services may be contacted directly through their local numbers.

Scuba diving is popular in the Bay Islands, but the limited medical facilities there pose a special risk in the event of an emergency. There is a decompression chamber on Roatan and Utila for divers, but no advanced medical care on either island for diving related accidents.

MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges American citizens to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas. U.S. medical insurance plans seldom cover health costs incurred outside the U.S. unless supplemental coverage is purchased. Furthermore, U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. However, many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas including emergency services such as medical evacuations. It is important to ensure that you have adequate medical evacuation coverage prior to your trip to Honduras.

When making a decision regarding health insurance, American citizens should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to providing service and that a medical evacuation to the U.S. may cost tens of thousands of dollars. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme difficulties. When consulting with your insurer prior to your trip, ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas healthcare provider or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.

Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad.

OTHER HEALTH INFORMATION: Mosquito-borne illnesses are an ongoing problem in Honduras. All persons traveling in Honduras, even for a brief visit, are at risk of contracting malaria. Take a prophylactic regimen best suited to your health profile. The country regularly suffers from outbreaks of dengue fever. Unlike traditional mosquito-borne illnesses, there is no medicinal prophylactic or curative regimen for dengue fever. Travelers should take precautions against being bitten by mosquitoes to reduce the chance of contracting such illnesses, such as avoiding standing water even in the home, wearing long sleeves and pants in both day and night, and applying insect repellent regularly.

Severe air pollution, which can aggravate or lead to respiratory problems, is common throughout the country during the dry season due in large part to widespread forest fires and agricultural burning. Travelers with respiratory or cardiac conditions and those who are elderly or extremely young are at greatest risk for complications from air pollution, which may include coughing, difficulty breathing, wheezing, or chest pain. Acute respiratory infections are also widespread; more than 100,000 cases are reported annually.

Individuals traveling to Honduras should ensure that all their routine vaccinations are up to date. Vaccination against Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Typhoid is strongly recommended for those traveling to Honduras from the United States. Honduras requires vaccination against Yellow Fever for those traveling to Honduras from countries where there is the risk of transmission. Travelers taking prescription medications should bring an adequate supply with them when coming to Honduras and ensure that they are properly labeled.

Honduras also has the highest adult HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in the region. Over 63,000 people in Honduras have HIV/AIDS.

Honduras lacks a substantial infrastructure for maintaining water purity. Travelers are strongly encouraged to avoid drinking tap water or a beverage that contains ice from an unknown source (even alcoholic drinks). Bottles and bags of purified water are widely available. It is also recommended that individuals traveling to Honduras avoid eating untreated raw vegetables, fruits that can’t be peeled on the spot, raw fish like ceviche and undercooked shellfish and products containing mayonnaise, pastry icing, and unpasteurized dairy products. Hot cooked food, fresh bread, dry foods such as crackers, bottled carbonated beverages, coffee, tea, and beer are usually safe, provided such food items are not purchased from street vendors. All fruits and vegetables should be washed thoroughly with detergent and running water. Those that will be cooked or peeled can then be stored in a sealed container until used. Those that will be eaten raw and will not be peeled should be soaked for 15 minutes in a solution of chlorine bleach (or 5% household bleach) in water (one tablespoon of Clorox per gallon of water), rinsed with potable water, and allowed to air dry.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Honduras is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Because of crime and poor road conditions, driving can be very dangerous, and travelers should carry a cellular phone in case of an emergency. Travelers should exercise extreme caution while driving on isolated stretches of road and passing on mountainous curves. Rockslides are common, especially in the rainy season (May through December). Traffic signs, even on major highways, are often inadequate, and streets in the major cities are often unmarked. Travelers should always drive with their doors locked and windows rolled up to avoid potential robberies at traffic lights and other places such as congested downtown streets. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

Honduran roads are poorly lit and marked. Vehicles are often driven at night without adequate illumination, and animals and people wander onto the roads at all hours. For these reasons, and because of the high incidence of crime, the U.S. Embassy strongly discourages car and bus travel after dark.

Major cities are connected by an inconsistently maintained, two-lane system of paved roads. Many secondary roads in Honduras are unpaved. During the rainy season, even major highways are often closed due to rockslides and flooding from heavy rains. In the event of an accident, contact the Honduran Transit Authority (“Transito”) immediately. They may be contacted either directly through their local numbers, or through their national emergency number, *189. Honduran law requires that no vehicles involved in an accident be moved until Transit Agents arrive, not even to clear a traffic obstruction, unless you are in serious physical danger.

Some of the most dangerous stretches for road travel include: Tegucigalpa to Choluteca, because of dangerous mountain curves; El Progreso to La Ceiba, because of animal crossings and the poor condition of bridges from flooding; Route 39 through northern Olancho Department between Gualaco and San Esteban; and Limones to La Union, Olancho (route 41) via Salama and northward to Saba. Locals also refer to this latter stretch of road as the “Corridor of Death” because of frequent incidents of highway robbery. In March of 2008, 27 persons died when a bus overturned and rolled down a ravine in La Esperanza, Intibuca, on another infamous stretch of road called “Flight of the Angel.”

The Embassy has received reports of robberies on the road from Tegucigalpa to Danlí. The only recommended route to the north coast from the south is CA-5 to route 21 to CA-13 via Tela to La Ceiba and Trujillo. Hijackings of private and commercial vehicles from the United States to Honduras have occurred. While Honduras and the United States have signed and ratified a Stolen Vehicle Treaty, existing Honduran laws protect good faith buyers (even of stolen vehicles) so the recovery and return of these vehicles to their original owners is not guaranteed. Vehicle insurance may mitigate loss; please check with the National Insurance Crime Bureau at https://www.nicb.org, private insurance carriers, and our Embassy web site information on Commercial Vehicle Hijackings at http://honduras.usembassy.gov/english/mission/sections/RSO/comveh_highsec.htm for more information.

For additional general information about road safety, please see our Road Safety page, which includes links to foreign government sites. For specific information concerning Honduran driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, please contact the Honduran National Tourist Organization offices in New York via the Internet at http://www.hondurastips.honduras.com/.

MARINE SAFETY AND OVERSIGHT: The areas off both coasts of Honduras are the subject of maritime border disputes between Honduras and its neighbors. The Honduran Navy patrols these areas, and all private vessels transiting Honduran territorial waters should be prepared to be hailed and possibly boarded by Honduran military personnel to verify documentation. While the Honduran Navy previously used private vessels as patrol vessels, this is no longer the case. In the event that any vessel is hailed in Honduran waters in the Caribbean by a non-military vessel or any suspicious vessel and directed to prepare for boarding, the vessel should immediately contact the U.S. Coast Guard Operations Center by radio or INMARSAT at 305-415-6800. Anyone needing more information can also contact the U.S. Embassy during working hours and request to speak with the U.S. Military Group (USMILGP) office.

There have been incidents of armed assaults against private sailing vessels by criminals posing as fishermen off the northeast coast of Honduras, particularly in the numerous small islands northeast of the Department of Gracias a Dios. Sailors should contact the Coast Guard and yacht facility managers in their areas of travel for current information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Honduras’ Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for the oversight of Honduras’ air carrier operations. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

Severe air pollution often leads to the closing of some or all of Honduras’ four international airports during the dry season. Some travelers have been compelled to travel by bus to neighboring countries in order to catch onward flights.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:

Real Estate Investment: U.S. citizens should exercise extreme caution before entering into any form of commitment to invest in real property, particularly in coastal areas and the Bay Islands. Honduran laws and practices regarding real estate differ substantially from those in the United States, and fraudulent deeds and titles are common; U.S. citizens considering investing or buying real estate in Honduras should be aware that rights to such property do not enjoy the same level of protection as in the United States. Historically, title insurance has not been available in Honduras. Recently, some American insurance companies have begun offering title insurance in cooperation with Honduran attorneys. However, approximately 80 percent of privately held land is untitled. In addition, there are complaints that the Honduran judicial system often prolongs disputed cases for many years before resolution. American citizens have spent thousands of dollars in legal fees and years of frustration trying to resolve property disputes, even in cases in which local attorneys and Honduran and U.S. real estate agents had given assurances to the investor. Violence has been used against American citizens involved in disputed property cases. Potential investors should engage competent local legal representation before making any commitments. Investors should thoroughly check references of attorneys and real estate agents.

Honduran law places certain restrictions on land ownership by foreigners in coastal and border areas. Squatters claim a number of properties owned by U.S. citizens. U.S. Government officials may not act as agents, attorneys, or in a fiduciary capacity. U.S. citizens who own property abroad and who thereby have assumed responsibilities concurrent with ownership of property in a foreign country should take steps on their own initiative to safeguard their interests and to employ private legal counsel when the need arises. For further information on investing in property in Honduras, please review the State Department’s Investment Climate Statement, part of the Country Commercial Guide at http://www.buyusa.gov/honduras/en/14.html. For information on contracting Honduran legal representation, please check with other investors. You may also refer to the list of attorneys available on the Embassy's home page at http://honduras.usembassy.gov/attorneylistoct07.pdf.

Financial Market Investment: Due to poor regulation and lack of guarantees, investment in the Honduran "Bolsa de Valores," or securities market, as well as banking institution bonds, “fideicomisos” (trusts), and certificates of deposit from uninsured financial institutions pose high risk to investors. Extreme caution should be exercised before and while undertaking such activities, as American citizens have lost large sums of money through investments in such precarious markets. For further information on investing in Honduras, please review the State Department’s Investment Climate Statement, part of the Country Commercial Guide at http://www.buyusa.gov/honduras/en/14.html.

Corruption: Many U.S. firms and citizens operating in Honduras have found corruption to be a serious problem and a constraint to successful investment. While some U.S. firms have satisfactorily resolved cases through the courts, the majority have difficulty navigating the legal system. There are complaints that the Honduran judicial system caters to favoritism, external pressure and bribes. Corruption appears to be most pervasive in government procurement, government permits, and in the buying and selling of real estate (land titling).

Customs Regulations: U.S. citizens who intend to stay in Honduras for an extended period of time and who bring vehicles or household goods into the country should consult Honduran customs officials prior to shipment. With the exception of “antique” cars, all vehicles imported into Honduras by foreigners must be less than ten (10) years old. For specific information regarding customs requirements, please contact the Embassy of Honduras in Washington, DC at http://www.hondurasemb.org/ for more information.

Honduran customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary import and export of items such as antiquities, medications, and business equipment. For example, Honduran law prohibits the export of antiques and artifacts from pre-colonial civilizations. To protect the country's biodiversity, it is illegal to export certain birds, feathers, and other flora and fauna. For specific information regarding exportation requirements, please contact the Embassy of Honduras in Washington, DC at http://www.hondurasemb.org/.

The Government of Honduras is strictly enforcing the law that requires a Honduran permit for the importation of firearms into Honduras. Travelers must obtain a firearm importation permit from a Honduran Embassy, Consulate General, or Consulate located in the United States prior to bringing firearms into the country. Please note that a U.S. government-issued or airline-issued permit is not valid for importation of firearms into Honduras. Firearms that arrive without the requisite Honduran permit will be confiscated and the bearer will be prosecuted to the full extent of Honduran law.

For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Honduran laws, even unknowingly, may be fined, expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Honduras are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Assisting or participating in the distribution of illegal drugs is also a crime prosecutable in the United States, and may lead to fines, property seizure, or imprisonment. Anyone offering you illegal drugs should be considered extremely dangerous – there is no “safe” source of illegal drugs.

"Sexual tourists" travel alone or in groups to Honduras for the purpose of purchasing sexual favors from minors. This activity violates Honduran law, and American citizens are imprisoned in Honduras for sexual offenses involving minors. In addition, U.S. citizens and residents charged with these crimes are subject to prosecution upon their return to the United States, regardless of the outcome of the judicial proceedings overseas. Moreover, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in sex workers in Honduras is estimated to be in excess of 10%. Using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is also a crime prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES: International adoptions from Honduras are very complex. Current information on Honduran adoption procedures and the immigrant visa application process is available from the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy. Prospective adoptive parents are urged to check with the Consular Section to ensure that all required documentation has been approved by the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) of the Department of Homeland Security and to confirm that their child's adoption is complete before traveling to Honduras to apply for their child's immigrant visa. Adoptive parents are also urged to carry with them complete adoption paperwork when traveling with their adopted child to, from, and within Honduras.

Honduras is a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, but the U.S. Department of State has determined that Honduras has failed to comply with its obligations under the Convention. No child has ever been returned to the United States from Honduras under the provisions of the Convention.

For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, please refer to the Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction, or telephone Overseas Citizens Services at 1-888-407-4747. This number is available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). Callers who are unable to use toll-free numbers, such as those calling from overseas, may obtain information and assistance during these hours by calling 1-202-501-4444.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
American citizens residing or traveling in Honduras are encouraged to register their presence through the State Department’s travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Honduras. American citizens without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa. By registering, whether via the Internet or in person at the Embassy, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency.

U.S. Embassy location:
Avenida La Paz in Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Internet site: http://honduras.usembassy.gov/
Telephone: 011-504-236-9320 or 011-504-238-5114
Office hours are Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 11:30 am.
American Citizens Services Unit Fax: 011-504-238-4357

Consular Agency in San Pedro Sula location:
Banco Atlantida Building – 11th Floor
San Pedro Sula, Honduras
Telephone: 011-504-558-1580
Office hours are Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

The Consular Agent is available during limited hours to perform notarial services, assist U.S. citizens with emergencies, and accept U.S. passport and U.S. Report of Birth applications for adjudication at the Embassy in Tegucigalpa. The Consular Agent does not provide visa information or services. For more details about all U.S. Embassy and consular services in Honduras, please see the Embassy web site at http://honduras.usembassy.gov/ or visit the Bureau of Consular Affairs web site at http://travel.state.gov/.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information dated October 12, 2007, to update sections on
Entry/Exit Requirements, Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information, Other Health Information, and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 26 Jul 2019 03:36:47 +0200
By Noe LEIVA

La Paz, Honduras, July 26, 2019 (AFP) - Of Honduras' 32 public hospitals, 26 are overflowing with patients due to what health authorities are calling the worst dengue fever epidemic in the past half century.   The disease has struck 28,000 people this year, of which 54, mostly children, have died.   The enormous case flow is evident in the western city of La Paz. Inside the local hospital's chapel, two tables are piled high with patient folders, which sit in front of a wooden depiction of Christ.   Even more telling are the beds lining the room, protected by red and blue mosquito nets, from which 10 women are being treated for some of dengue's typical symptoms: bone and joint pain, high fever, vomiting and dehydration.#

Officials have called a national emergency to fight the dengue-causing aedes aegypti mosquito and a fumigation program has been launched in homes and public buildings.   And yet the hospital bursts at the seams. On top of those housed in the chapel, six of the facility's eight rooms are taken up by those stricken by dengue, with some beds even in the corridors.   Three of the rooms house a total of 26 children, age two to 14 -- the most vulnerable group to dengue -- who are connected to IV bags and monitored by concerned parents.   "They're not all out of danger," said a nurse as she looked over the patients.

- 'We're overrun' -
Crista Alexandra Pineda, age seven, is one of the children whose health is worrying hospital staff the most.   She was admitted on Sunday suffering from bleeding, accompanied by her 59-year-old grandmother, Josefina Velasquez.   "We're overrun," hospital spokesman Marco Antonio Rodas told AFP.   "We had to postpone planned operations" to concentrate on the emergencies.   "In 20 years working here, I've never seen this," he added.

Over the last week, the number of patients rose from 53 to 78. The most serious cases were transferred by ambulance to the University Hospital in the capital Tegucigalpa, where already two have died, Rodas said.   He hasn't ruled out the possibility of taking over schools to accommodate patients who are "arriving in ever greater numbers."   Marta Zoila Lopez, 58, told AFP she was at home in Guajiquiro, close to a La Paz, on Sunday when she started feeling symptoms.   "At first I had pain in my stomach, head and bones, vomiting and bleeding" from her nose and gums. She was immediately taken to the hospital where nurses say she's still in a delicate condition.   President Juan Orlando Hernandez summoned all 298 municipal mayors to the capital on Monday and announced a special fund to combat the outbreak.

The only effective measure to halt the epidemic "is to destroy the mosquito's breeding grounds and this is something that every one of us has to do in our homes, where we work and also in every public area," said Hernandez.   He also announced a "massive mobilization" to fumigate and destroy those breeding grounds. Churches, press organizations and business leaders have committed to assisting the effort.   It's a critical situation with the three-month long rainy season about to begin, meaning that breeding grounds will soon proliferate and the mosquito's numbers could soar.
Date: Thu, 20 Jun 2019 09:02:06 +0200

Tegucigalpa, June 20, 2019 (AFP) - Thousands of Hondurans blocked streets across the country Wednesday night demanding the resignation of President Juan Orlando Hernandez as tensions mount over strikes by police and truckers.   Police spokesman Jair Meza told AFP that street occupations were reported in several areas of the country, but the force was working to restore order despite a sit-down strike by special operations units.

Meza said looters had raided and torched businesses in the capital, Tegucigalpa, while others blocked streets with bonfires made from tires and rocks.   He added that the police were receiving reinforcements from the armed forces to control the groups that, in their opinion, are made up of gangs and opponents demanding the resignation of President Hernandez.   Mezo said the striking officers -- mostly riot police -- claim "harassment in the workplace and abuse of authority by many chiefs," according to a statement.   The special forces police officers say they are given "terrible food," that they are sent on missions without their expenses being covered and that they are denied labour rights and salary increases.

The Ministry of Security responded in a statement that police bosses "ordered the review of work days," while recognizing that there had been extra shifts to address the demonstrations.   The conflict deepened when police chief Jose Aguilar visited the area where the strikers were holed up but had to flee after a tear gas canister was thrown at him, another police spokesman Orlin Cerrato told a press conference.

Meza said that there was also a strike by truck drivers, who since Monday have parked their rigs on roads near the capital, demanding a pay rise.    The blockage caused a shortage of fuel in some areas of the country, which in turn led to long lines of vehicles at gas stations, the spokesperson said.
Date: Sun, 19 May 2019 05:17:37 +0200

Tegucigalpa, May 19, 2019 (AFP) - Four Canadians and an American pilot died Saturday when their small plane plunged into the sea off the Honduran island of Roatan where they were vacationing, firefighters said.   The plane crashed near the town of Dixon Cove, a few minutes after taking off from the island's airport, rescuers said.   The dead were identified as Bradley Post, Bailey Sony, Tomy Dubler and pilot Patrick Forseth.

The other Canadian pilot, Anthony Dubler, briefly survived the crash but died at the Roatan hospital of his injuries.   The causes of the crash and the registration information for the aircraft were not immediately available.   It occurred as the tourists were headed toward the city of Trujillo, about 77 kilometres (48 miles) from Roatan.
Honduras. 21 Mar 2019. (Reported)

39 cases with 54% in children under 18 years; DHF/serious 12 cases in past week.

[An 18 Mar 2019 report indicates that there are 789 serious dengue cases with 12 deaths.
Date: Fri 18 May 2018 10:14 HS CST
Source: TVP [in Spanish, machine trans., edited]
<https://tvpacifico.mx/noticias/209149-honduras-acumula-diez-muertos-y-172-casos-confirmados-de-gripe-a>

Honduras has registered 10 deaths and 172 cases of influenza A, with 22 new infections confirmed in the last hours, reported today [18 May 2018] the national coordinator of Health Surveillance, Homer Meja. He also noted that 9 of the deceased patients had "more than one underlying disease, such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease." He added that the majority of these infections occurred in San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa, the 2 most important cities of the Central American country.

Meja indicated that there are also 2 people who are suspected of having contracted the disease in Comayagua, in the central region of Honduras, so they are being kept under surveillance. The official stressed that the influenza vaccination campaign began on [Mon 14 May 2018] in the main cities of the country, and recommended all pregnant women to be vaccinated because very few do so despite being at risk for the health of the baby. The official said that pregnant women should know that the disease can directly affect the baby, and insisted that these women should be vaccinated, regardless of the time of gestation.

People aged 59 and over, health workers, children under 5, the chronically ill, and pregnant women, are the most vulnerable groups who are receiving the dose first, he added. Mejía said that the vaccination centers have more than one million doses to vaccinate groups at risk and announced that in the 1st week of June [2018] the rest of the population will be vaccinated.

The main symptoms are fever of up to 39 deg C [102.2 deg F], chills, headache, muscle, sneezing, intense and persistent cough, runny nose, tearing, and mild pharyngitis, according to the authorities.
=========================
[There have been reports of increased influenza activity in various countries during the official influenza season in the southern hemisphere. The severity of the current season is similar to the trend seen in the northern hemisphere during the 2017-18 season. Vaccination, particularly for high risk groups, can help reduce morbidity and mortality, provided the vaccine strains are a close match to the circulating viruses. - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map Honduras:
<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/22>]
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Sun 3 Nov 2019
Source: Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) [edited]

Highlights
- In the reporting week 44 (28 Oct - 3 Nov 2019), 11 new confirmed** cases were reported from Ondo (6) and Edo (5) states with one new death from Edo state.
- From 1 Jan - 3 Nov 2019, a total of 4396 suspected* cases have been reported from 23 states. Of these, 754 were confirmed positive, 19 were probable, and 3623 were negative (not a case).
- Since the onset of the 2019 outbreak, there have been 158 deaths in confirmed cases. Case-fatality ratio in confirmed cases is 21%.
- A total of 23 states (Edo, Ondo, Bauchi, Nasarawa, Ebonyi, Plateau, Taraba, Adamawa, Gombe, Kaduna, Kwara, Benue, Rivers, Kogi, Enugu, Imo, Delta, Oyo, Kebbi, Cross River, Zamfara, Lagos, and Abia) have recorded at least one confirmed case across 86 local government areas [LGAs] - Figure 1.
- 93% of all confirmed cases are from Edo (38%), Ondo (31%), Ebonyi (7%), Bauchi (7%), Taraba (5%), and Plateau (5%) states - Figure 1.
- Predominant age group affected is 21-40 years (range: greater than one month to 98 years; median age: 34 years) - Figure 6.
- The male-to-female ratio for confirmed cases is 1:1 - Figure 6.
- In the reporting week 44, no new healthcare worker was affected. A total of 19 healthcare workers have been infected since the onset of the outbreak in 10 states: Edo (6), Ondo (4), Ebonyi (2), Enugu (1), Rivers (1), Bauchi (1), Benue (1), Delta (1), Plateau (1) and Kebbi (1) with 2 deaths in Enugu and Edo states.
- Nine patients are currently being managed at various treatment centres across the country: Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital (ISTH) treatment Centre (7) and Federal Medical Centre, Owo (2).
- A total of 8400 contacts have been identified from 21 states. Of these, 356 (4.2%) are currently being followed up, 7967 (94.8%) have completed 21 days follow-up, while 12 (0.1%) were lost to follow-up. A total of 132 symptomatic contacts have been identified, of which 65 (49.2%) have tested positive.
- National Lassa fever multi-partner, multi-sectoral Technical Working Group (TWG) continues to coordinate response activities at all levels.

Figures [available at the source URL above]
-------------------------------------------
Figure 1 [map]. Randomised distribution of confirmed Lassa fever cases in Nigeria as at 3 Nov 2019.
Figure 2 [map]. LGAs with confirmed Lassa fever cases in Nigeria as at 3 Nov 2019.
Figure 3 [graph]. Epicurve of Lassa fever confirmed cases (754) in Nigeria - week 01-44, 2019.
Figure 4 [graph]. November 2019. Weekly trends of Lassa fever confirmed cases in Nigeria, 2016/week 01-2019/week 44.
Figure 5 [graph]. Confirmed Lassa fever cases in Nigeria with state-specific case-fatality rates (CFR) as at 3 Nov 2019.
Figure 6 [graph]. Age-sex distribution of confirmed Lassa fever cases in Nigeria as at 3 Nov 2019.

*Suspected case describes any individual presenting with one or more of the following: malaise, fever, headache, sore throat, cough, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, myalgia, chest pain, hearing loss, and either (a) history of contact with excreta or urine of rodents or (b) history of contact with a probably or confirmed Lassa fever case within a period of 21 days of onset of symptoms, or any person with inexplicable bleeding/hemorrhagia.
**Any suspected case with laboratory confirmation (positive IgM antibody, PCR, or virus isolation)
==================
[The 11 new confirmed and 4396 suspected cases indicate that Lassa fever (LF) virus transmission is continuing. Nigeria should be in the period of the year when fewer cases usually occur, as illustrated in the graph in Figure 3 (at the source URL above), but more cases are still occurring. There has been a peak in case numbers between weeks 1 and 11 (January-March) over the past 3 years and probably will be the case again next year (2020).

The number of confirmed deaths has increased by 2 to 158. Fortunately, there are no new healthcare workers infected during this reporting period, and the total number of infected healthcare workers remains at 19, a likely indication that effective barrier nursing and the use of personal protective equipment are being employed. This outbreak remains widespread so far in 2019, with confirmed cases occurring in 23 states, and the number of affected LGAs remains at 86. ProMED-mail readers may wish to see the maps and graphs (Figures 1-6) that are available at the source URL above.

Transmission of LF virus occurs when individuals are in contact with rodent reservoir host excreta or are within healthcare facilities. It would be interesting to know whether the prevalence of Lassa fever virus has been increasing in populations of rodent hosts in areas where human cases are occurring.

Images of the rodent reservoirs of Lassa fever virus:
_Mastomys natalensis_:
_Mastomys erythroleucus_ and _Hylomyscus pamfi_:

There is no mention in the plans above of public education for avoidance of contact with these rodents and their excreta. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[Maps of Nigeria:
Date: Thu 14 Nov 2019
From: Larry Lutwick <lutwick.larry@mayo.edu> [edited]

Over the past 5 days, our health care facility in northwest Wisconsin, USA, has seen 3 women hospitalized with _E coli_ O157 infection. All presented with significant abdominal pain without fever and watery diarrhoea which in 2 progressed to bloody diarrhoea. None of the 3 have manifested any evidence of haemolytic-uremic syndrome. Both of the women seen by the Infectious Diseases service stated that their diet contains a lot of salads.

We would appreciate any reports of upswings in the number of cases of this process in the upper Midwest USA or elsewhere.
--------------------------------------------
Larry Lutwick MD
Eau Claire, Wisconsin
=========================
[Although the classical source of enterohemorrhagic _E. coli_ infections is ground beef, fresh produce as in salad ingredients are also well represented as vehicles of transmission. ProMED would appreciate any further reports as the country health departments work on this as yet small outbreak. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Wisconsin, United States: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/250>]
Date: Tue 12 Nov 2019
Source: Daily Times [edited]

[_Naegleria fowleri_] has claimed another life in Karachi on [Mon 11 Nov 2019]. This was the 16th death reported in the ongoing year [2019] because of the disease. According to details, a 28-year-old resident of New Karachi area was brought to a private clinic 4 days ago where he died of the disease during treatment.

According to the researchers, _Naegleria_ has a fatality rate of more than 98%. Infections can happen when contaminated water enters the body through the nose. It cannot be passed person-to-person.

The amoeba travels from the nasal membranes to the brain. Symptoms are initially very mild, including a headache, stiff neck, fever, and stomach pain. Death usually occurs 5 to 7 days after infection.

_N. fowleri_ is a microscopic amoeba, which is a single-celled living organism. It can cause a rare and devastating infection of the brain called primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). The amoeba is commonly found in warm freshwater such as lakes, rivers, ponds, and canals.

Once the amoeba enters the nose, it travels to the brain where it causes PAM (which destroys brain tissue) and is usually fatal. Infections usually occur when it is hot for prolonged periods of time, which results in higher water temperatures and lower water levels.
====================
[Even though the weather has cooled considerably in northern parts of the country, Sindh province, which includes Karachi, continues to experience hot and humid climate which is conducive to the proliferation of the Naegleria parasite.

A public awareness message from the Government of Sindh Health Department can be seen at

Optimum chlorination is the key measure to prevent _Naegleria fowleri_ infection. In the absence of chlorination of the supply water in the city, residents need to clean water tanks and chlorinate water in the tanks. - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Tue 12 Nov 2019
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]

Moncton is a city of some 85,000 people in south-eastern New Brunswick, Canada. In a CBC [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) report today [12 Nov 2019], it is reported that a 3rd Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) case this year [2019] -- all 3 cases had cataract surgery at the Moncton Hospital.  In April [2019], Moncton Hospital reported the identification 2 separate cases where a patient with probable Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) had cataract surgery in the facility.

Dr Gordon Dow, division head of infectious diseases at the Moncton Hospital, said even he was shocked when another case of CJD was discovered.  "I think even though there's the overwhelming weight of evidence suggesting that we've had a cluster of sporadic cases, there is no need for public alarm," Dow said. "This is not an indication that there's been an outbreak of CJD."

Prion diseases are rare, fatal, degenerative brain disorders that are thought to occur worldwide in both humans and animals. They belong to the general category of brain diseases called proteinopathies, which also includes Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Although there are several forms of human prion disease, the most common is Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD).  Since January 1998, Canada has reported 1037 definitive and probable CJD cases and New Brunswick has seen 31 cases during this period.
Date: Mon 11 Nov 2019
Source: Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)

Mexico has become the 1st country in the world to receive validation from the World Health Organization (WHO) for eliminating dog-transmitted rabies as a public health problem. "Eliminating [dog-transmitted] rabies doesn't happen by accident," said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. "It takes political resolve, careful planning, and meticulous execution. I congratulate the Government of Mexico on this wonderful achievement and hope many other countries will follow its example."

Rabies causes 60,000 deaths each year, mainly in Asia and Africa. In Latin America and the Caribbean, new cases of rabies were reduced by more than 95 percent in humans and 98 percent in dogs since 1983.

"By eliminating human rabies transmitted by dogs, Mexico is showing the world that ending infectious diseases for the next generation is possible and is the right way forward," said PAHO Director, Carissa F Etienne.

Mexico's achievement
--------------------
In order to achieve elimination, the country has implemented a national strategy for the control and elimination of rabies. This includes free, mass vaccination campaigns for dogs, that have taken place since the 1990's with more than 80 percent coverage; continuous and effective surveillance; public awareness-raising campaigns; timely diagnosis; and the availability of post-exposure prophylaxis in the country's public health services.

As a result, the country went from registering 60 cases of human rabies transmitted by dogs in 1990, to 3 cases in 1999, and zero cases in 2006. The last 2 cases occurred in 2 people from the State of Mexico, who were attacked in 2005 and presented symptoms in 2006.

The validation process
----------------------
WHO considers a country to be free of rabies after registering 2 years of zero transmission of rabies to humans. However, there was previously no process to verify the achievement of this goal, until this was developed by PAHO/WHO. Mexico became the 1st country in the world to begin this in December 2016.

The validation process was extensive and included the creation of a group of independent international experts established by PAHO/WHO. It also included the preparation, by Mexico, of an almost 300-page file containing all historical information about the situation of rabies in the country. PAHO and its specialized center in veterinary public health, PANAFTOSA, accompanied and supervised the implementation of the validation process throughout.

The group of experts carried out a mission to Mexico in September 2018 to review the file and verify the country complied with all WHO requirements. In September 2019, the group recommended the Director General of WHO and PAHO validate the elimination.

Moving forward
--------------
In order to sustain elimination, PAHO/WHO recommends continuing all rabies prevention, surveillance and control actions, particularly as rabies virus continues to circulate among wild animals such as bats.

PAHO collaborated with the countries of the Americas to eliminate rabies through technical cooperation, staff training, periodic meetings between those responsible for the issue in-country, and through the provision of recommendations on international standards. As of September 2019, there have been zero cases of rabies transmitted by dogs in humans in the Americas.

In addition to rabies, Mexico eliminated onchocerciasis in 2015 and trachoma in 2017, 3 of the more than 30 infectious diseases and related conditions that PAHO's new Communicable Disease Elimination Initiative in the Region of the Americas has set as a goal for elimination from the continent by 2030.
===================
[This is certainly an outstanding achievement and should be celebrated by all. It is also an example to other countries.  Of course, someone acquiring rabies from a bat would be outside of this situation. This WHO/PAHO validation specifically refers to rabies acquired from dog bites. This is a great milestone. Congratulations Mexico! - ProMED Mod.TG]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Mexico:
Date: Mon, 18 Nov 2019 08:37:15 +0100 (MET)

Jakarta, Nov 18, 2019 (AFP) - An endangered Sumatran Tiger has mauled to death an Indonesian farmer and seriously injured a domestic tourist, a conservation official said Monday.   The fatal attack happened Sunday at the farmer's coffee plantation on Sumatra island where the 57-year-old wrestled with the big cat before it killed him, according to Genman Hasibuan, head of the South Sumatra conservation agency.   "The farmer was attacked while he was cutting a tree at his plantation," he told AFP on Monday.   The mauling came a day after the same tiger attacked a group of Indonesian tourists who were camping at a local tea plantation in South Sumatra's Mount Dempo region.

One of the tourists was rushed to hospital for wounds to his back after the cat stormed into his tent, Hasibuan said.   The animal, which remains loose in the protected-forest area, is believed to be one of just 15 critically endangered tigers in South Sumatra, which has seen five tiger attacks this year, including two fatal incidents, Hasibuan said.

Human-animal conflicts are common in the vast Southeast Asian archipelago, especially in areas where the clearing of rainforest to make way for palm oil plantations is destroying animals' habitats and bringing them into closer contact with people.   In March last year, a man was killed by a tiger in Sumatra's Riau province while several months earlier a tiger also killed a plantation worker in the area.   Sumatran tigers are considered critically endangered by protection group the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with 400 to 500 remaining in the wild.
Date: Fri, 15 Nov 2019 17:12:24 +0100 (MET)

Karachi, Nov 15, 2019 (AFP) - Pakistan has become the first country in the world to introduce a new typhoid vaccine, officials said Friday, as the country grapples with an ongoing outbreak of a drug-resistant strain of the potentially fatal disease.   The vaccine, approved by the World Health Organization (WHO), will be used during a two-week immunisation campaign in southern Sindh province.

Sindh is where most of Pakistan's 10,000 cases of typhoid have been documented since 2017.    "The two-week campaign beginning from today would target over 10 million children of nine months to 15 years of age," Azra Pechuho, the health minister in Sindh province, said in Karachi on Friday.   The new vaccines have been provided by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to the Pakistani government free of cost.

After the two-week campaign, it will be introduced into routine immunisations in Sindh, and in other areas of Pakistan in the coming years.   Pakistan spends a meagre amount of its national resources on public health and a majority of its population remains vulnerable to contagious diseases such as typhoid.   In 2017, 63 percent of the typhoid cases documented and 70 percent of the fatalities were children, according to a joint press release from the Pakistani government, WHO and Gavi.
Date: Sat, 16 Nov 2019 05:50:25 +0100 (MET)
By Abhaya SRIVASTAVA

New Delhi, Nov 16, 2019 (AFP) - A thick grey smog choked New Delhi for the fifth day Saturday, adding to a mounting pollution health crisis, but retired naval commander Anil Charan is one of the vast majority of the city's 20 million inhabitants who do not wear a mask.   Indian media is packed with warnings about the risk of premature death, lung cancer and particular danger to children from PM2.5 -- tiny particles that get into the bloodstream and vital organs -- carried in the smog.   But the smartly-dressed Charan was among shoppers in Delhi's upmarket Khan Market district browsing the luxury clothes and jewellery stores without a mask, seemingly oblivious to the risk.   Many are too poor to afford protection but others simply do not like the way a pollution mask looks.

Charan, wearing aviator sunglasses, said it did not fit his "rough and tough" image.   "I have been brought up in this kind of atmosphere, the smog and all, so I am kind of used to it. And being a naval officer I think if I wear a mask I will think I am a sissy," he said.   Doctors say face masks must be worn and air purifiers used at home and in offices.   There are a variety of masks to choose from. A basic cloth version can cost as little as 50 rupees (70 US cents) but the protection they offer is debatable.    More reputable types start from 2,500 rupees ($34) while some Khan Market stores charge more than 5,500 rupees ($75) for top of the range imported models.

- Bare-faced bravado -
The mask-look worried a lot of the Khan Market shoppers and diners however. Some said the danger had been overblown.   "I know I am risking my health but I am not very comfortable wearing them (masks)," said Ritancia Cardoz, who works for a private company.   "I don't find it appealing," she told AFP.   Lopa Diwan, on a visit to the capital from the provinces, said the Delhi air was "not as bad as it is being made out to be."   "So many people advised me not to go to Delhi because of the pollution but I don't think it's that bad. I don't see people dying," she said.

Pollution -- blamed on industrial and car emissions mixed with stubble fires on thousands of farms surrounding the city -- has been building up each winter for the past decade. The past five years have been particularly bad.   The toxic air cuts short the lives of one million people in India every year, according to government research published earlier this year.    Concentrations of the most harmful airborne pollutants in Delhi are regularly about 20 times the World Health Organisation safe limit. That rams home the city's reputation as the world's most polluted capital.   Some foreign companies and embassies now do not let families move to Delhi, or at least give strong warnings about the pollution.

The Delhi government has given out hundreds of thousands of masks to children and closed schools for four of the past five days. Construction is banned and cars can only go on the roads on alternate days.   But still only a tiny number of inhabitants follow medical advice when outside. Rickshaw drivers who earn about $7 a day on an average say they cannot afford masks.   Chand Babu, a car park attendant at Khan Market, said he could buy one of the cheaper masks but it was too much of a hassle to wear.   "I have to blow the whistle all the time so it's inconvenient."   Babu does worry, however, about his three children who also do not have masks. "They go outside to play. The problem is real, but what do we do, tell me?"
Date: Sun, 17 Nov 2019 14:28:44 +0100 (MET)
By Filippo MONTEFORTE with Charles ONIANS in Rome

Venice, Nov 17, 2019 (AFP) - Venice's St Mark's Square was closed on Sunday as the historic city suffered its  third major flooding in less than a week, while rain lashing the rest of Italy prompted warnings in Florence and Pisa.   Venice's latest "acqua alta", or high water, hit 150 centimetres (just under five feet) on Sunday, lower than Tuesday's 187 centimetres -- the highest level in half a century -- but still dangerous.   "The water has stopped rising," tweeted mayor Luigi Brugnaro, who has estimated damage so far from the invading salt water at over one billion euros (dollars).   "High of 150 centimetres... Venice is working to restart," Brugnaro said after the sea water swamped the already devastated city where authorities have declared a state of emergency.   To the south, Tuscany president Enrico Rossi tweeted a warning of a "flood wave" on the Arno and said boards were being installed on the swollen river's banks in Pisa "as a precautionary measure".

The Italian army tweeted photos of paratroopers helping to bolster river defences in Pisa, with authorities monitoring the same river in Florence after heavy rain made it rise dramatically overnight.   Arno flooding devastated Renaissance jewel Florence in 1966, killing around 100 people and destroying thousands of priceless works of art. Civil protection units in Florence advised citizens "not to stand near the Arno's riverbanks".   Firefighters tweeted footage of a hovercraft being deployed to rescue stranded citizens in southern Tuscany's Grossetano province.

- Brief respite -
The renewed threat from exceptionally high tides in Venice came after a brief respite on Saturday.   Emergency workers removed temporary walkways from St Mark's Square as the water started to rise on Sunday, with only police and soldiers visible at around midday.   The top tourist site had already been shut for several hours on Friday as strong storms and winds battered the region, leaving it submerged by sea surges.

Churches, shops and homes have also been inundated in the Renaissance city, a UNESCO World Heritage site.   A massive infrastructure project called MOSE has been under way since 2003 to protect the city, but the multi-billion euro project has been plagued by cost overruns, corruption scandals and delays.   "We weren't expecting the high waters to be so exceptionally high," said Guido Fulgenzi, who had planned to open his cafe on St Mark's square this week.   "We're paying the price" for the MOSE project not being completed, he said, sloshing around in his flooded kitchen and pointing to Tuesday's high water mark on the wall.   The crisis has prompted the government to release 20 million euros ($22 million) in funds to tackle the devastation.   Culture Minister Dario Franceschini has warned that the task of repairing the city, where more than 50 churches have suffered damage, will be huge.

- Hotel reservations cancelled -
Residents whose houses have been hit are eligible for up to 5,000 euros in immediate government aid, while restaurant and shop owners can receive up to 20,000 euros and apply for more later.   Most of the city's cash machines were no longer working, making life even more difficult for tourists and Venetians.   "We didn't expect there to be so much water, now we're soaked," said French tourist Magali Mariolou, visiting Venice for her wedding anniversary.   "We'll come back another year when it's a bit drier. The boots are heavy, they're full of water!"

Older residents who remember the infamous "acqua alta" of 1966, when the water rose to 1.94 metres, say they have not seen such frequent flooding before.   Hotels reported cancelled reservations, some as far ahead as December, following the widespread diffusion of images of Venice underwater.   Tuesday's high waters submerged around 80 percent of the city, officials said.   Many, including Venice's mayor, have blamed the disaster on global warming and warned that the country prone to natural disasters must wake up to the risks posed by ever more volatile seasons.   The Serenissima, as the floating city is called, is home to 50,000 residents but receives 36 million visitors each year.
Date: Mon, 18 Nov 2019 06:41:11 +0100 (MET)

Wellington, Nov 18, 2019 (AFP) - Samoa finalised plans for a compulsory measles vaccination programme Monday, after declaring a state of emergency as a deadly epidemic sweeps the Pacific nation.   At least six fatalities, including five children, have been linked to the outbreak of the virus, which has also hit other island states such as Tonga and Fiji.   Samoa is the worst affected with more than 700 cases reported from across all areas of the country, prompting the government on Friday to invoke emergency powers.

Declaring a state of emergency, the government said plans for compulsory measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) immunisations would be published on Monday.   "MMR vaccinations for members of the public who have not yet received a vaccination injection is now a mandatory legal requirement for all of Samoa," it said.   A national emergency operations centre to coordinate the measles response in the nation of 200,000 people was opened on Monday, with children aged six months to 19 years and non-pregnant females aged 20-35 given priority.

However, no information was immediately available on how the vaccinations would be administered or whether those who were not immunised would face sanctions.   Children are the most vulnerable to measles, which typically causes a rash and fever but can also lead to brain damage and death.   Samoa has closed all schools, kindergartens and the country's only university in a bid to halt the spread of the virus.   New Zealand, which is experiencing its own measles outbreak in the Auckland region, will this week send 30 nurses, 10 doctors and 3,000 MMR doses to Samoa.

University of Auckland immunologist Helen Petousis-Harris said even though measles was already widespread, the mass rollout of vaccinations could help limit the number of cases and reduce the death count.   She said it was also important to boost Samoa's low levels of immunisation and help prevent future outbreaks.   "In Samoa, the proportion of people who are immune to measles is very, very low, one of the lowest in the world," she told AFP.   "So if they aren't able to improve that, this is going to happen again."   The country's vaccination programme was briefly suspended last year when two babies died shortly after being given the MMR vaccine.   Subsequent investigations found the problem was not the widely used vaccine but the fact that nurses had prepared it incorrectly.

Neighbouring Tonga last week announced government primary schools and kindergartens would be closed until later this month as the number of measles cases in the kingdom approaches 200.   Fiji has reported four cases but says they are contained to a township west of the capital Suva.