Faith-based groups responding in Peru

Emergency aid making its way to earthquake survivors.

BY P.J. HELLER | LIMA, Peru | August 22, 2007

Clean water is distributed to residents in earthquaked-ravaged Pisco.
Credit: Jacob Goad/PDA-ACT International

Residents in Pisco sift through rubble of their homes.
Credit: Jacob Goad/PDA-ACT International

Massive quantities of emergency aid from governments, relief agencies and faith-based organizations continued to wend their way Wednesday to tens of thousands of Peruvians affected by a deadly 8.0 earthquake.

"The priorities are to provide shelter, water, sanitation, food and temporary employment to the people most affected by the earthquake," said Jorge Chediek, resident coordinator with the United Nations Development Program.

The devastation caused by the powerful earthquake on Peru's central coast on Aug. 15 - which left an estimated 503 people dead, 1,000 injured and an estimated 35,000 people homeless, according to figures from Peru's National Civil Defense Institute had slowed relief efforts.

Other figures put the death toll at 540 with indications it could go even higher and the number of homeless anywhere from 80,000 to 180,000. Concern was being expressed about the spread of disease.

"The situation is still quite difficult for survivors," said Jorge LaFosse, secretary general of Caritas Peru.

The hardest hit area was Pisco, where the earthquake was reported to have destroyed 80 to 85 percent of the city. Most of the fatalities from the temblor occurred in Pisco, a city of 130,000 people located about 150 miles south of the capital Lima. The cities of Ica and Chincha were also hard hit.

Caritas Peru said it was assisting more than 50,000 people, providing them with food, clean water, clothing, bedding, medicine and other basic necessities. It also said it planned to distribute materials for building temporary shelters. Among those partnering with Caritas was Catholic Relief Services.

Caritas officials said they had already distributed 215 tons of aid.

Similar relief efforts were under way by Episcopal Relief and Development, which was working with the Diocese of Peru.

"At present, we have a small team of people in the area of the epicenter," said Bishop H. William Godfrey of the Diocese of Peru. "They are primarily involved in feeding people as well as providing water and medicine.

"We are working in conjunction with other churches and aid agencies, adding whatever we can to what God gives us," Godfrey said.

Three members of Action by Churches Together (ACT) Lutheran World Relief, Center for Studies and Disaster Prevention and the Evangelical Lutheran Association for Aid to Community Development - were spearheading relief efforts in Peru for ACT. Other ACT members were supporting those efforts.

Lutheran World Relief was focusing on the rural provinces of Huaytara and Castrovirreyna, where it planned to distribute food kits to families and provide trauma counseling for children. It also planned to work with about 1,000 families to help them and their communities deal with crisis situations.

The other two ACT members, working in the province of Chincha, planned to help residents construct temporary emergency shelters. Plans were also announced for sanitary facilities and for providing information on managing water and sanitation facilities. Other efforts will include trauma and leadership counseling and recreation for children.

"The current response aims at mitigating the suffering of the population in less accessible, vulnerable and poor rural areas which lack drinkable water, shelter, medicines, clothes and non-perishable food," ACT officials said.

An official with the Peruvian Baptist Convention said that the poor have been the most impacted by the quake.

"The poor have been the most affected and, when we visited, aid had not got to them, so they were desperate for water, food and most also for shelter,” said Margaret Swires, director of the Peruvian Baptist Convention’s social action and family department.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief said it was offering aid through the Methodist Church of Peru and would make a grant to ACT. The Methodist Church in Peru said it was shipping relief supplies to affected areas and was preparing for a long-term response to the disaster.

Also announcing a response was the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, which was partnering with the National Evangelical Council of Peruvian Churches and other disaster organizations to supply emergency relief supplies to quake survivors. Among the supplies being sent were maize flour, beans, blankets and cooking items.

Tens of millions of dollars in aid have been pledged in the relief effort. The Vatican on Monday announced it was sending $200,000 to aid survivors.

Countries from both Latin America and worldwide have also been sending relief supplies. Among those countries sending donations were the United States, Spain, Canada, Italy, France and Israel.

The coast of Peru has been the scene of major earthquakes in the past, the largest of which was a magnitude 9 that occurred in 1868. That temblor caused a tsunami that killed several thousand people along the South American coast and also caused damage in Hawaii, the U.S. Geological Survey said. Two other quakes along the coast, in 1908 and 1974, were in the magnitude 8 range.

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