1998 NCC News Archives

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In the Wake of El Niņo's Devastation,
CWS Responds to Most Vulnerable in the U.S., Worldwide

How to Help

Funds for humanitarian response to El Niņo, including the storms in California and Florida, may be directed to: CHURCH WORLD SERVICE, P.O. Box 968, Elkhart, IN 46515. Phone pledges or credit card donations: 1-800-762-0968.

Who We Are

Church World Service works in more than 70 countries, including the U.S., in disaster relief, human development and refugee assistance. It is a ministry of the National Council of Churches, the nation's preeminent ecumenical organization which includes 34 Protestant and Orthodox member communions with a combined membership of nearly 52 million.

   NEW YORK, March 4, 1998 -- As the El Niņo weather phenomenon wreaks havoc worldwide, including in the United States, Church World Service (CWS) is providing a community-based response to the most vulnerable people in areas where unmet needs are the greatest.

    Last week, CWS launched extensive recovery efforts in the wake of the storms and flooding in California and Florida, drawing on already existing interreligious networks and developing new faith-based organizations to distribute aid, coordinate volunteers and help the poorest and most vulnerable people with emergency and long-term assistance.

    In recent months, CWS has responded to El Niņo-related disasters in East Africa, Mexico and Latin America with blankets, food, medicine and aid for the reconstruction of homes and the reinforcement of river banks.

    "The many ways we have been responding to the crippling weather caused by El Niņo, from our 'El Niņo preparedness' appeal in September 1997 to our targeted appeals of recent months in Somalia, Mexico, Latin America and the U.S., reveal our philosophy better than any statement could," said the Rev. Dr. Rodney Page, Executive Director of CWS.

    "We focus on vulnerable and isolated people, whose needs often go unmet," said Rick Augsburger, Director of the CWS Emergency Response Office. "We also focus on the community level, by working with partner agencies." The CWS response to Hurricane Pauline in Mexico is a good example of these emphases, Mr. Augsburger said. "We sought $300,000 to help the rural, and primarily indigenous, communities in the region, especially those in isolated areas who were being neglected by other international aid agencies," he said. "CWS Regional Representative Samuel Lobato is working with the Catholic Archdiocese, indigenous organizations such as the Guerrense Council, and the local NGO network to supply food, reconstruction materials, tools and transport."

    Other CWS efforts in response to El Niņo include:

  • The recent tornadoes that struck central Florida killed at least 38 people and destroyed more than 400 residences. CWS has appealed for $500,000 to work with its partners, the Florida Council of Churches and its affiliate, Interfaith Networking in Disaster (FIND), to implement a four-part response plan. The plan includes: Deploying volunteers to install temporary roofing; developing informational/training sessions to prepare clergy and lay volunteers to care for caregivers, to provide crisis counseling to disaster-affected families, and assist disaster survivors in applying for Red Cross and FEMA assistance; establishing local interfaith organizations to address long-term recovery needs, and launching a fundraising drive.
  • In California, the networks formed as a result of last year's mitigation and preparedness efforts by CWS Disaster Consultants have sprung into action as torrential, record-breaking rains fueled by El Niņo have pounded both northern and southern parts of the state. CWS has appealed for $350,000 from its member communions for interfaith organization and training and seed money for the coordination of housing reconstruction for as many as 300 homes. CWS Disaster Resource Consultant Dick Eskes of the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee said a major problem is the "diffuse" nature of the disaster.
  • El Niņo is taking an unusually heavy toll on Latin America, with heavy rains and flooding common in some areas, and drought in others. "There is a joke in Latin America now that La Niņa, the other gender, is responsible for the drought," said the Rev. Oscar Bolioli, Director of the Latin America and the Caribbean Office for CWS. Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru have been particularly hard hit. CWS has requested $54,000 from its member communions to help relief and development organizations in these countries to provide food, kitchen utensils, medicines, blankets, mosquito nets, water purification and fumigation products, reconstruction materials and tents for temporary shelters. CWS is assisting peasants in isolated rural areas, including 37 indigenous Guaranies del Itika Guasu communities in Bolivia which face the threat of hunger, as well as communities in marginalized urban areas such as Lima, Peru.
  • Responding to the worst flooding in nearly 40 years in central and southern Somalia, CWS sent $30,000 in Emergency Blanket Funds to Joint Relief and Rehabilitation Services (JRRS), a CWS partner based in Somalia and Kenya, for some 5,000 flood survivors in Somalia's Juba Valley. CWS sought an additional $100,000 in support of a JRRS request for anti-malaria drugs, food and relief supplies. Compounding the disaster is the lack of local capacity to address needs. Somalia is without a central government and is ruled by various warring factions.

    CWS Emergency Response Office staff and consultants agree that El Niņo will continue to cause devastation in coming months, increasing the need for disaster mitigation in vulnerable regions. "A disaster of this severity and this long-lasting can be a real strain on resources," Mr. Augsburger said, "so we will be emphasizing training and preparedness to get the most from our resources."

    For more information about the aforementioned areas and the effects of El Niņo, contact CWS Emergency Response at 212-870-3151 or via e-mail CWS_DROFFICE@ecunet.org Updated information can also be found on the CWS internet web site: /CWS/emre

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Writer: Wendy S. McDowell

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