From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Christians among victims in disastrous earthquake in northern India

Date 02 Feb 2001 13:19:14for <,>; Fri, 2 Feb 2001 13:31:52 -0800 (PST)


Christians among victims in disastrous earthquake in northern India

by James Solheim

     (ENS) Christian churches and members are among the casualties in the most 
disastrous earthquake to strike India for the last 50 years, according to the 
bishop of the Church of North India's Gujarat Diocese.

     Bishop Vinod Malaviya said that the situation is "beyond our description and 
estimate," with more than 90 percent of the buildings destroyed in some areas by 
the January 26 quake. Damage was heaviest in the Kutch region bordering Pakistan 
and the epicenter was in the Kutch town of Bhuj.

     "Some of the villages and small towns are 100 percent destroyed," he said in 
a letter released February 1 by the Anglican Communion Office in London. "It is 
very difficult to say how many people have died but it is sure that the casualty 
rate is very high," he wrote. Government officials are now estimating that the 
casualty level may pass 100,000.

     "People are in fear, anxiety and disappointment," he added. In Ahmedabad, a 
city of five million, "about 100 high-rise buildings have been damaged. All the 
high-rise buildings are vacated and people are staying outside the flats, either 
on roads or open ground," he said after a visit to the area.

     "All Christian members are safe but they have lost their houses," the bishop 
reported. "It is a miracle that all the surrounding buildings of our church in 
Gandhidham have collapsed but our church and parsonage have survived." Relief 
efforts are operating from a building that was "miraculously only partially 

     The bishop witnessed the destruction first-hand as he traveled 350 
kilometers to Ahmedabad after a church meeting in Gandhidham.

'The need is great'

     In the town of Bhuj, the church has also been damaged, according to the 
bishop's report. "The Christian families have lost their properties and houses 
but they have survived." He plans to visit other areas where he has heard that 
four Christians have been killed. "Some are very badly injured but we fear that 
there will be many more in Bhuj," he said.

     Roman Catholic Bishop Gregory Karotemprel of Rajkot said that the problem of 
communicating with the affected region was preventing the "enormity of the 
tragedy" from being made public. He said that nearly half of Bhuj's population of 
180,000 were dead. 

     The main church aid agencies--Churches Auxiliary for Social Action, Lutheran 
World Service and Caritas India--have already sent workers and supplies to 
Gujarat, which has a small Christian minority of only 0.5 percent of the 
population of 45 million.

     After calling an emergency meeting of clergy and local lay leaders, Bishop 
Malaviya said, "We have decided that the Church of North India must start 
immediate relief work and also encourage other Christian institutions and 
Christian people to work together and bring all Christian relief agencies 
together so that we may be more effective and serve needy people in a better 
way," he said. "The need is so great."

Setting priorities

     Priorities for the relief work, the bishop said, are food and water, 
temporary shelter, blankets and basic utensils, financial support "to each of our 
Christian families to start the new life." It will also be necessary to rebuild 
or repair churches, community halls, parsonages and the Bible seminary, as well 
as the bishop's house and diocesan office which "have been damaged seriously 
which require serious attention."

     The church also hopes to train 100 young people to serve as volunteers to 
distribute relief. "We have motivated young people, women pastorate committee 
members and leaders" for this ministry, he said. But the church will also need 
help from partner churches to augment what can be done locally, he emphasized.

     Episcopal Relief and Development gave a $25,000 emergency grant to Bishop 
Malaviya and the diocese and an additional $25,000 grant to the Church of North 
India "to support the larger relief efforts." ERD said that "once the immediate 
needs are addressed, we stand ready to assist in the rehabilitation of the people 
suffering in the aftermath of this tragedy," according to Malaika Kamunanwire, 
director of development for ERD.

--James Solheim is director of the Episcopal Church's Office of News and 
Information. This story is based on reports from ACNS and Ecumenical News 

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