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Response difficult in Venezuela

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | December 27, 1999

BALTIMORE (Dec. 27, 1999) -- As human needs crescendo in Venezuela, ongoing response from

relief organizations and nations worldwide is helping to alleviate people's suffering.

Already, contributions by donor organizations total more than $10 million, reported the United

Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Many U.S.-based relief

organizations, denominations, and churches are responding to the disaster. Response leaders, along

with the U.S. Agency for International Development, report that the best way for individuals to

help is to contact an organization working directly in the region.

The Venezuelan government has reported a death toll of up to 30,000 in the wake of two weeks of

relentless rain in early- and mid-December that caused catatrophic mudslides and flooding. Up to

340,000 people have been affected, with 140,000 displaced because their homes were destroyed or

damaged.

Potable water has been identified as the most pressing need. The Venezuelan government reported

that the country has sufficient food supplies for the next 60 days.

Many U.S.-based relief organizations are either working directly in Venezuela or are working with

local partners to both assess and address needs. Since many roads and bridges were damaged or

destroyed, transporting and distributing relief goods is difficult. The flooding and landslides

have isolated many communities.

Displaced people continue to be relocated to relief stations and shelters set up in Carcaras and in

other areas. Relief organizations are struggling to meet the needs of hundreds of

thousands of survivors, as some 8,600 government and military officials continue the last phases

of search and rescue.

At least one denominational relief organization -- the Adventist Development and Relief

Agency (ADRA) -- has been supporting a rescue team to save people in the Vargas state -- the area

hardest hit by the disaster.

Now response is transitioning from the rescue phase to one of meeting the longer-term

needs of displaced people. ADRA is one of numerous organizations to set up temporary reception

sites in Caracas to provide food, clothing, and water to hundreds of evacuees.

People in lesser affected areas are being asked to open their doors to refugees.

"Most people being rescued have lost all their belongings," said Rodolfo Escobar, ADRA Venezuela

director. "Plus many crops were washed away."

As evacuees increase in number, Church World Service (CWS) is also expanding efforts to supply

material assistance to survivors. CWS continues to distribute relief goods through its Venezuelan

partners Centro de Educacion Popular Excario Sesa Lugan (CEPEXSOL) and Caracas a Asociacion Civil

Paz y Vida.

After issuing an emergency appeal for $20,000, CWS sent blankets and mattresses for 800 people who

were evacuated to the town of Barquisimeto.

Evacuees continue to make their way from communities surrounded by broken dams, overflowing lakes,

and still-precarious mountainsides. The city of Miranda has been isolated since the El Guapo dam

burst, completely flooding the city and rendering roads impassable.

After responding to the CWS appeal with an initial $10,000 Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA)

expanded its work with partner churches in Venezuela to provide assistance to survivors. The

Episcopal Church, through the Diocese of Caracas, also has expanded efforts to meet survivors'

needs.

Week of Compassion, a giving program coordinated through

the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), also continues to send

financial support through a Venezuelan partner, the

Evangelical Pentecostal Union of Venezuela.

And after committing an initial $100,000 toward emergency relief, Catholic Relief Services

(CRS) is also planning a long-term response. "Just as

Hurricane Mitch ravaged Central America a little more

than a year ago, this crisis has affected some of the

poorest people in Venezuela," said Kenneth Hackett, CRS

executive director.

Baptist World Aid is sending $5,000 to the National

Baptist Convention of Venezuela. In Caracas, the Baptist

Convention office is focusing on the needs of pregnant women and orphaned children.

Jacobo Garcia, a Venezuelan Baptist Convention official, said that

hundreds if not thousands of children have been left

homeless with no parents.

Like other faith-based groups, Baptist World Aid plans a

more extensive response after this initial effort. "I

know that the funds we have already sent will need to be

multiplied many times if we are to provide the kind of

support needed," he said.

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day

Saints are also responding locally. "Some church members,

sadly, were victims," said J. Patrick Reese, welfare

service emergency response officer. He added that the

U.S.-based church members were currently planning a

response as well.

Michigan-based International Aid is also responding by

shipping blankets, food, and hygiene kits to the stricken

areas, and World Vision and the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee are also accepting monetary donations to send

relief items.

The Venezuelan Red Cross unveiled a three-phase flood relief plan that will reach 50,000 families --

or a projected 250,000 people -- in one year at an estimated cost of $3 million.

Updated Dec. 29, 1999


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