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January 1, 2005
Column #1,218

                                   Will You Help Tsunami Victims?
                        
      We have all been horrified by the scale of the disaster caused by an earthquake in the sea that triggered huge tsunami waves. At this writing an estimated 84,000 are dead, a figure likely to rise to 100,000 as counts are tallied from outlying areas.

     Even more horrifying, these numbers could double if survivors can not find clean water to drink, food or basic shelter. Cholera and malaria could claim many. Five million are homeless.

     So my question is what will YOU do about it? In this column, I profile four agencies who are already at work with local partners saving lives.  I urge you to contribute to the agency of your choice.

     1. Red Cross: As of noon on Wednesday a remarkable $18 million had already been contributed to the American Red Cross International Response Fund, which supports both immediate and long-term relief efforts for disaster victims in countries outside the U.S.

     In cooperation with Red Crescent Societies, active in Muslim areas such as Indonesia, the Red Cross has trained personnel, relief supplies and now a cash reserve to be used in three areas: water sanitation services, family linking and reunification, plus relief supplies, $350,000 of which are pre-positioned in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Call 1 800 HELP NOW.

     2.  World Vision, the largest Protestant relief agency, has 5,000 to 8,000 local people on its staff in these countries, such as 2,000 in India alone. No other relief agency has even one tenth of those numbers on its local staff. And there are blankets, food, plastic sheeting for shelter and water purification tablets already in local warehouses, so no costly transportation is needed.

     For example, it has millions of water purification tablets. One can clean 10 liters of water.

     On Tuesday, World Vision fed 3,000 people in one village alone.

      "We know that if this is not the world's greatest natural disaster in modern times, it is a 100 year tsunami," said spokesman Dean Owen. "Rebuilding will take years.  People have lost not only their homes but their livelihoods. Fishermen no longer have boats. Farms are underwater with salt water that ruins crops.

     "It is a disaster of Biblical proportions. One man asked, `If this is today's disaster, what will Armageddon look like?' I could not answer."

     World Vision raised $1 million in 48 hours, breaking a record, with no advertising. Its goal is raise $20 million, which it hopes to do in a week. Go to www.worldvision.org to donate.

     3. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) began by committing $500,000, then $10 million and now has pledged $25 million for relief in 11 countries. Its 200 staffers in India (where there are 20 million Catholics) were called back from Christmas vacations, as were 100 in Indonesia and a regional office in Thailand. Catholics run health clinics, hospitals and schools in India and Sri Lanka (where Catholics are 8 percent of the population).

     CRS has warehouses with family kits that include water purification tablets, blankets, mats to sleep on, cooking utensils plus a warehouse of surplus food bought by the U.S. government. In the weeks ahead, Catholic Relief will help people stabilize by moving into temporary houses, camps for refugees with feeding stations. 

     In the third stage, CRS funding helps rehabilitate communities with housing reconstruction, rehabilitation and with new ways to earn a living. Call 1-877 HELP CRS.

     4.  CARE already has offices in India, Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka (where 250 work in 17 field offices.)  Its priority is make water safe to drink, provide plastic tenting, blankets and to offer psychological or social assistance to help people relocate family members.

     CARE has long helped widows to survive economically with vocational training and by teaching them to start their own businesses. In Thailand, CARE helps local health providers with medical first aid kits, oral rehydration tablets, meals ready to eat, medicines for pain and diarrhea, clothing and a shelter built in an open field.  In time, tents are give to individual families for more privacy.

     CARE has already received $4.5 million To contribute: 1-800 521-CARE.

     World Vision notes there are many myths about helping in a disaster:

      Americans can best help by sending clothes and blankets. No, money is better which can buy such things locally without the time of shipping.

      The U.S. must airlift food and medicine. No, buying locally helps the economy there.

      If I send cash, my help won't get there. No, these are reputable agencies, one Catholic, one Protestant and two secular groups.

     Please help.

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