From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Lutherans Respond When Disaster Strikes in the World

From News News <>
Date Thu, 6 Jun 2002 11:58:57 -0500


June 6, 2002


     CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
(ELCA) continues to sustain life and restore structures damaged or
destroyed by natural and human-made disasters.  Coordinated through the
ELCA Division for Global Mission, International Disaster Response is
providing funds for food, medicine, drinking water, emergency shelter
and other materials for survivors of disasters around the world.
     "Natural and human-made disasters continue to disrupt livelihood
and cause death to many people around the world almost every day,"
according to Belletech Deressa, director for international development
and disaster response, ELCA Division for Global Mission.
     "Church organizations are the first to help survivors of a
disaster and the last to leave," Deressa said.  "While stories about
relief and recovery efforts eventually drop from news headlines,
Lutherans continue to work to serve people in need."
     Among current ELCA International Disaster Response work:
     + AFGHANISTAN.  For the past 24 years, Afghanistan has been hit by
various human-made and natural disasters that have affected the entire
population, said Deressa.
     Before the threat of reprisals in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11
terrorist attacks on the United States, hundreds of thousands of people
had already left their villages in Afghanistan for camps outside major
cities, where they had heard food was available, Deressa said.  "It was
estimated that there were more than one million internally displaced
people and millions of others stranded on the borders of Pakistan,
Kazakstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and other neighboring countries."
     Since last fall ELCA International Disaster Response fund has
committed $300,000 to Action by Churches Together (ACT) for
implementation by Church World Service and Norwegian Church Aid (members
of ACT) to support humanitarian relief efforts in Afghanistan.  The ELCA
also responded to an earthquake that struck northern Afghanistan on
March 26.  The ELCA participates in the work of Church World Service.
     + ANGOLA.  After 26 years of civil war, Angola is moving toward
peace.  Four million people are believed to have been internally
displaced as a result of the civil war, according to Deressa.
     The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is the main humanitarian non-
governmental organization in the eastern region of Angola, particularly
the Moxico province, Deressa said.  "LWF first became involved in the
Republic of Angola in 1985, when it initiated an emergency relief
program after people fled from the civil war," she said.
     On May 21, the Division for Global Mission approved $100,000 from
International Disaster Response to support recovery efforts in Angola.
"We hope these funds will enable LWF to accompany the people in Angola.
This is the time that international communities need to accompany people
and rebuild the country that is still vulnerable," Deressa said.
     + CHECHNYA.  Russia's armed forces moved into Chechnya in 1999,
just one week after its air force began bombing the Chechen capital,
Grozny.  The Kremlin said the move was a reaction to Chechen
participation in the invasion of Daghestan and bombings in Moscow,
Volgodonsk and Buynaksk that left about 300 dead.
     "Some reports indicate that there were 10,000 civilians in
Chechnya killed since the beginning of the conflict.  About 170,000
Chechens live as refugees in the neighboring Republic of Ingushitia and
more than 160,000 are residing along the Chechen frontiers," Deressa
     Members of the ELCA sent more than $17,000 to ACT to support
humanitarian efforts in Chechnya.
     + DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO.  The war that began in August
1998 still continues today in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
"The humanitarian crisis there is being described as one of the worst in
Africa.  Hundred of thousands of displaced people cannot be reached
because of inaccessibility and insecurity," Deressa said.
     While the Democratic Republic of the Congo continues to suffer
from civil war, the town of Goma -- located on the eastern mountain-edge
of the Congo -- was destroyed when the Nyiragono Volcano erupted on Jan.
17.  About 254 people were killed and 100,000 people became homeless.
More than 50,000 families needed emergency assistance in Goma and its
surrounding areas.
     ELCA International Disaster Response funds -- $100,000 sent to ACT
-- were used to help survivors of the volcano.
     + MALAWI.  Heavy rainfall and "delayed" government response were
some primary factors that contributed to the current food shortage in
Malawi, a country east of Zambia in southern Africa. "Quite a number of
lives have been lost, especially among women and children," said the
Rev. Joseph Bvumbwe, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in
     "In 2000 and 2001, heavy rainfall produced flooding in the central
and southern parts of the country," said Bvumbwe.  "The Shire River, the
only major outlet of big Lake Malawi, flooded and farmers in the Shire
Valley lost crops," he said.
     Drought conditions in the northern part of the country also had a
negative effect on crop production, Bvumbwe said.
     "The government of Malawi delayed in accepting the fact that the
country was experiencing a food shortage," Bvumbwe said.  Many
households went without food for long periods of time.  Thousands of
children became severely malnourished, he said.
     The government of Malawi made plans to make maize available from
South Africa, but the transportation of maize into Malawi has been
problematic, Bvumbwe said.
     The acquisition of foreign cash in Malawi markets has also been
"Tobacco is Malawi's main cash crop.  Because of international campaigns
against tobacco, it has been difficult for Malawi to sell tobacco to get
foreign cash," Bvumbwe said.  In order to secure that cash flow into the
country, "maize crops in reserve had to be sold.  That happened a year
ago and, at that point, people were already starving."
     Members of the ELCA responded to the food shortage in Malawi by
sending $50,000 to ACT for implementation by the Evangelical Lutheran
Development Programme in Malawi.  Most of the funds were collected by
congregations of the ELCA Northwest Synod of Wisconsin, based in Rice
Lake.  The synod shares a "companion relationship" with the Evangelical
Lutheran Church of Malawi.
     + ZIMBABWE.  The current drought in Zimbabwe is expected to reduce
grain harvest by 50 percent compared to last year, Deressa said.
     "Resorting to one meal per day for a family has had a profound
nutritional impact, especially on children, expectant mothers, the
elderly and poor," she said.
     "Human lives are already under serious threat due to this drought.
Some deaths have been reported.  The likelihood of water shortages as
the year progresses is also noted, and the impact on the health status
of people and animals could be considerable," Deressa said.
     Members of the ELCA sent $50,000 May 21 through International
Disaster Response to assist Lutheran Development Services in Zimbabwe.
"The need is great and much will be needed in the future," she said.
     ELCA International Disaster Response often channels its funds
through international relief agencies like Lutheran World Relief -- the
relief and development agency working overseas on behalf of the ELCA and
the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and the LWF -- a global communion of
Christian churches in the Lutheran tradition.  Founded in 1947, the LWF
now has 133 member churches in 73 countries representing 60.2 million of
the world's nearly 64 million Lutherans.
     "Last year, 69 different appeals for funds were made by ACT.
Funds requested amounted to more than $114 million.  Only $57.4 million
was received, which is only 50 percent of the request," Deressa said.
     ACT is a worldwide network of churches and related agencies
meeting human need through coordinated emergency response.  The ACT
coordinating office is based in Geneva, Switzerland, with the World
Council of Churches (WCC) and the LWF.  The ELCA is a member of the LWF
and WCC.
  "While emergency needs continue to increase worldwide, it is
becoming more challenging for ACT and other humanitarian agencies,
including the ELCA, to respond to many of the appeals fairly and
adequately," Deressa said.
-- -- --

Editors:  When listing organizations receiving funds for aid to
survivors of major disasters outside the United States, Puerto Rico or
the U.S. Virgin Islands, please include:

ELCA International Disaster Response
PO Box 71764
Chicago, IL 60694-1764

For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or NEWS@ELCA.ORG

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