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EDITOR’S NOTE: Funds for humanitarian response in El Salvador following the earthquake may be sent to:

Church World Service, Attn. El Salvador Earthquake
P.O. Box 968, Elkhart, IN 46515
Phone Pledges/Credit Card Donations: 1-800-297-1516 x222
On-Line Contributions:

January 25, 2001, NEW YORK CITY – In response to the earthquakes and landslides in El Salvador, Church World Service and its ecumenical partners have provided assistance to 14,550 families in 39 communities spanning 10 of the country’s 19 departments (provinces), a number that is expected to increase.

Together they have distributed food, blankets, mattresses and other relief items in two camps: in Santa Tecla, for 300 people, and in San Salvador, for 3,000 people. A third center, at Nejapa, is just now opening. And they have organized dozens of volunteers to respond to the needs of thousands more in isolated rural communities, some accessible only by helicopter or on foot, cut off by landslides and blocked roads.

Their support focuses on assisting those who were already vulnerable before the disaster and to those living in the country's poorest communities (See Sidebar: Faces Behind the Numbers: Salvadoran Earthquake Survivors). Such a response is necessary given the scale of the disaster, which has affected a large area of the country, says Rudelmar Bueno de Faria, El Salvador representative of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), coordinating the ecumenical response.

The earthquake killed at least 700 people, and some 1,200 people are believed missing from a landslide that buried a neighborhood in the Las Colinas neighborhood west of the capital in Santa Tecla. But damage was extensive throughout El Salvador, particularly in the eastern department (province) of Usulutan.

"Days of travel to different parts of El Salvador confirm that the scope of the earthquake’s devastation was far wider than first thought," reported Chris Herlinger, CWS Emergency Response information officer, who just returned Monday (January 22) following six days in El Salvador.

More than 500,000 Salvadorans in all have been affected by the earthquake, with 200,000 homes damaged and another 70,000 completely destroyed. Rural areas still suffer from loss of power, blocked roadways and lack of safe drinking water. The coffee industry, the country’s second largest source of income, has been hard hit. CNN reports coffee production paralyzed by displacement and loss of field workers and by damage to access roads and crops.

The ecumenical community’s first response following the January 13 earthquake was in the form of funds for shelter for survivors. In response to a request from LWF in El Salvador, and due to depletion of local stocks, Church World Service this week air freighted 4,000 blankets.

Emergency relief concerns have moved from finding survivors to health and sanitation issues, especially fear of dengue fever and cholera outbreaks in overcrowded temporary shelters across the region. CWS/ACT expect to announce a one-year response and recovery plan soon. This plan will focus on the long-term reconstruction needs and livelihood support of the most vulnerable families who lost their homes and belongings.

Emergency response efforts are being carried out by partners in El Salvador, including LWF, the Salvadoran Lutheran Church and other fellow members of Action by Churches Together (ACT), a global alliance of some 200 Protestant and Orthodox churches and aid agencies. Other partners include Emanuel Baptist Church; CREDHO (Episcopal Church Aid); Alfalit (Reformed Church); UNES (Salvadoran Ecological Organization); and FESPAD (Foundation for Studies on the Application of Rights).

For the 14,550 families assisted so far in the affected areas all over the country material assistance as been provided including beans, rice, oil, corn and flour; mattresses and blankets; gas lamps; kitchen utensils; water buckets; hygiene packages; shovels, picks and wheelbarrows, medicines, and plastic sheeting for shelter.

ACT anticipates that during the subsequent rehabilitation and reconstruction phases, ACT partners will assist some 12,500 families in 125 communities in the departments of Ahuachapan, La Libertad, La Paz, Sonsonate and Usulutan.

"ACT partners have the necessary contacts and relationships in the communities they serve," said Bueno de Faria. "They know the specific needs of these communities, and their history there provides them direct and rapid access." An important element to the long-term response, he said, is that members and organizations of the communities will be included in all decision-making during the rehabilitation and reconstruction phases. "We are attending to the needs of the poor communities, but in a different way, in a way that ultimately empowers them," he said.


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