UMCOR playing pivotal role in tsunami relief effort

UMCOR playing pivotal role in tsunami relief effort

By Jan Snider 

Watching images from the earthquake and tsunami catastrophe in Asia and Africa might compel some people to travel to help with the recovery. However, the primary need is for financial support, the United Methodist Committee on Relief says.

UMCOR has long-term relationships with organizations that are responding to the tsunami disaster on the ground. The agencies are working to provide what is needed to the people locally.

"Very often, what they need in a big emergency is money," said the Rev. Kristin Sachen, head of UMCOR's international disaster response. "Our partners have the networks, the training, and they simply need the money to carry out their plan."

From Southeast Asia to the East African coast, at least 11 countries are trying to recover from monster tidal waves that struck Dec. 26, 2004, wiping out entire villages and killing more than 140,000 people (as of Jan. 5). News reports count another 5 million as injured or survivors. A 9.0 magnitude earthquake in the Indian Ocean, near the island of Sumatra, triggered the tsunamis.

In providing relief to India, UMCOR is working with the Christian Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA), an agency it has supported for several years and in many disasters. In Sri Lanka, UMCOR has partnered with the National Council of Churches of Sri Lanka, which includes the Methodist Church based there.

CASA is already planning on building cyclone shelters in India, and UMCOR is in contact with the Christian Medical Association of India to see how the relief agency can help disperse medical teams.

UMCOR is "an agent we can trust to be working before the rest of us even think of it," said the Rev. John Collett of Belmont United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tenn. "And UMCOR has decades of experience; they don't reinvent the whole wheel. They have methods, channels."

Said Sachen: "We put out the appeal and promise that 100 percent of the money collected will be used for the disaster."

UMCOR is a founding member of Action for Churches Together (ACT), a consortium that includes the Sri Lankan churches' council, CASA and other organizations around the world. ACT helps relief organizations avoid duplicating efforts and providing aid that is not effective.

"When we see a gap in the response, that's where we step in and see what we can do to help," Sachen said. "Our job is to make sure local ACT partners have the resources to do what they know how do to." Working through ACT fosters cooperation and order among the donating agencies, she said.

UMCOR also works closely with Church World Service, a relief organization supported in part by 36 denominations.

Church World Service announced Dec. 29 that it was expediting more than $900,000 in relief supplies and sending emergency assistance teams to Sri Lanka and Indonesia. UMCOR is one of several denominational relief agencies that supported the initial relief effort.

In responding to the damage caused by the tsunamis, many able-bodied citizens will be available to rebuild their communities, said Linda Beher, UMCOR communications director. "Their economic viability may depend on them to have jobs in order to keep their families going."

Although UMCOR has already sent funds to aid survivors of the disaster, the agency considers itself a mid- and long-term recovery organization. "It may not get us a lot of attention, but it is the right thing to do," Sachen said.

--Jan Snider is a freelance producer for United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn.