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NCC General Secretary says Katrina response must be two-fold:
Aid the victims and end the poverty that made them vulnerable

by Philip E. Jenks and Leslie Tune

New York, September 9, 2005 -- The General Secretary of the National Council of Churches USA today described the plans of member churches to aid the millions of persons displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

But the Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar warned that catastrophes like Katrina will happen again unless national, state and local governments come to grips with the poverty that left so many people trapped in the path of the storm.

"The real hurricane crisis began years ago, not only with the neglect of the levees in
New Orleans but with the neglect of poor people who live in the city and throughout the Gulf coast," Edgar said. "When the hurricane approached, people who had the means to buy gasoline or public transportation or refuge away from the storm, left the city. Those who could not afford it stayed -- and we are still waiting with horror to learn how many died."

The NCC is working closely with Church World Service, its sister humanitarian and relief agency, to rush food, blankets and other supplies to New Orleans and to areas where hurricane victims are being sheltered., the council's online network of socially committed persons of faith, raised $40,000 for relief in the week following Hurricane Katrina.

But Edgar said governments must work harder to prevent future tragedies. "Every city in the U.S. and around the world that neglects the poor makes the poor vulnerable to a disaster on the scale of Katrina," Edgar said. "The rising waters of human desperation may not be caught on camera, but that desperation is no less real for millions in our nation and abroad who live in 'the ground below zero.' When we fail to pay attention, crisis comes as an expensive wake-up call.  The time to build the ark is before the flood begins."

"The world is knit together into such interdependence that we cannot live in isolation as a country," Edgar said, "just as Gulfport and Biloxi and New Orleans are irreversibly connected to the power grid and the highway system and the disaster relief networks that transcend state and local boundaries."

The United States and other members of the United Nations should offer maximum support to the UN Millennium Project that plans to use "practical solutions" to cut worldwide poverty in half by 2015 and save tens of millions of lives, he said.

"Government can give us effective ways to work together, to organize and channel our resources to help each other, and especially to help those who cannot help themselves. Government itself is not the problem.  Our failure to manage government wisely and fairly is the problem," Edgar remarked.

"We must never forget that Jesus spent most of his ministry proclaiming the kingdom of God
while reaching out to the poor," Edgar said. "Persons of faith can do no less, and we remind governments throughout the world that they have been called by God to bring us together and help those who cannot help themselves."

See statement by Church World Service Executive Director Rev. John L. McCullough here.

AP Photo.

Contact NCC News: Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2252, and Leslie Tune, 202-544-2350.


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