United Methodists Contribute Over $32 Million for South Asia Relief Efforts

United Methodists contributed $32.4 million to their denomination's emergency fund that is providing relief and rehabilitation following last year’s devastating South Asia quake-tsunami disaster.

The tally, taken from the end of last December to end of March, is the largest amount ever received by members of the United Methodist Church (UMC), according to its relief and development arm - the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).

"UMCOR gives thanks to God for the outpouring of care and concern offered by United Methodists in response to the incomprehensible loss and destruction caused by the tsunami in South Asia," said Bishop Edward W. Paup, president of the humanitarian agency's board of directors.

During its semi-annual meeting on Apr. 12, the UMCOR board approved proposals for a $19.2 million long-term development package for Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Meanwhile, projects are also underway in India and Somalia.

Paup indicated that the board actions represent a snapshot of plans unfolding three months after the multi-centered, major disaster.

According to UMCOR, the agency’s response in Indonesia will involve four segments. With its partner the Methodist Church in Indonesia, UMCOR has identified some 1,000 families in Sumatra Province to receive initial benefits.

First-year expenditures of $5 million will provide new homes, safe water and sanitation facilities, and income generation opportunities, the agency reported. In addition, UMCOR has joined longtime partner Church World Service (CWS) in a strategic alliance for recovery projects through 2008. UMCOR will also support CWS nutritional programs, vaccinations and other health services, and trauma counseling. The agency's share in the collaborations will be $3 million.

UMCOR will also build permanent and temporary housing in Lamno and Aceh provinces of Sumatra with a fourth UMCOR partner in Indonesia – the International Blue Crescent (IBC). IBC is a Muslim organization that worked with UMCOR several years ago in rebuilding of homes and schools in Turkey. After the 2003 earthquake in Bam, Iran, IBC acted as UMCOR's chief implementer and provided a strategic interfaith witness on behalf of United Methodists. The agency reports that the investment for this segment of the Indonesia program is $1.2 million.

In Sri Lanka, UMCOR will invest about $8 million. In collaboration with the Methodist Church of Sri Lanka UMCOR will build houses for 1,000 families and provide fresh water and income generation programs for another 1,000. The shelter program will employ both skilled and unskilled workers.

On the east coast, some 16 villages have already organized fishing societies using an UMCOR grant, the agency reported. David Sadoo, an UMCOR emergency services staff member on the ground in Sri Lanka, said women would be leading some of these societies for the first time.

"The church's presence in a disaster of this magnitude really makes a difference in breaking open constraints" such as women assuming leadership roles, Sadoo said. "We have all had to be more creative than usual because of the extraordinary scope of the disaster."

In both Indonesia and Sri Lanka, portions of the grants will support psychological health projects.

In India, UMCOR has partnered with Churches Auxiliary for Social Action and Christian Medical Society of India (CASA) to operate mobile health clinics. To support continued operations of CASA, the UMCOR board approved a $320,000 grant, to be delivered in equal installments over the next four years. UMCOR officials also plan to explore additional aid that CASA identifies on a longer term horizon of two to four years. The Methodist Church of India and UMCOR are in talks now to assess income generation projects in Madras and the Andaman Islands. UMCOR also issued an emergency grant to assist Burmese refugees living in an area of Thailand devastated by the tsunami.

In the coastal region of Somalia, which was also affected by the tsunami, UMCOR's long-time partner there - Center for Education and Development - has identified 2,750 destitute families whose breadwinners died or were injured in the catastrophe. Food rations, plastic sheeting, and fishing equipment are all part of the Somalia grant.

According to UMCOR, the agency’s officials say they expect to be in the Indian Ocean region for years to come.

"The blessing for UMCOR is the absence of time constraints on delivering a long-term program of aid and development in South Asia," said the Rev. Kristin Sachen, head of UMCOR's emergency services.

Sachen noted that the operating rules established by many other relief agencies compel them to spend all funds within a predetermined timeframe.

"For that reason UMCOR has the added grace to stay until the job is done," she said. "We can cover the gaps other agencies may miss because of their speed."

Later this month, UMCOR officials will travel to India and Indonesia to meet with local partners. They say additional projects will emerge from those conversations.