Huge Church-Based Humanitarian Agency Launched

More than 100 church-based relief and development organizations worldwide have formally united under an umbrella group.

ACT Alliance, one of the world's largest humanitarian bodies, was formally launched Wednesday with the main celebration in Geneva. The new body is a merger of the disaster relief network ACT International and its sister organization ACT Development.

Both ACT International, established in 1995, and ACT Development, formed in 2007, were created through the leadership of the World Council of Churches. The two bodies coordinate the work of agencies related to member churches of the WCC and the Lutheran World Federation in the areas of humanitarian emergencies and poverty reduction, respectively.

John Nduna, general secretary of ACT Alliance, said the alliance provides the opportunity "to better link emergency humanitarian assistance and sustainable development."

"When the emergency is over, and the funds run out, churches continue to be present; they are the organization at the end of the street or village, which remains when all others have gone," Nduna pointed out.

"The ACT Alliance, with our faith to guide us and the continued support of all our partners and friends to sustain our work, can continue to bring relief to the needy, support to the oppressed and development to the impoverished," he said.

After the South Asia tsunami in 2004, church-based relief agencies were criticized for lack of coordination. Their lack of communication and partnership led to redundant works and a waste of resources and man power.

Though both ACT International and ACT Development were created before the tsunami, their network of church-based relief and development organizations stepped up and provided more coordination of relief work following criticism from the tsunami effort. It became more apparent to Christian humanitarian organizations and church-based relief groups that they should not work independently without communication.

In the case of the massive earthquake in Haiti, the worldwide fellowship of churches has been working through ACT to respond with life-saving works. On the very day of the earthquake, Jan. 12, nine ACT organizations were operating in Haiti and were able to begin relief efforts immediately.

Likewise, ACT was also able to quickly assist survivors of the Chile earthquake six weeks later.

WCC General Secretary the Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit in a sermon in Geneva on Wednesday said "the ACT Alliance is a genuine expression of the ecumenical movement, the call to be one so that the world can believe that God is a loving and caring God for all humankind."

The service was attended by ACT and WCC staffs as well as other humanitarian and church-related organizations to celebrate the formation of the new alliance.

ACT Alliance is composed of more than 100 organizations working in long-term development and humanitarian assistance. Collectively, it employs about 30,000 staffs and volunteers who work in 125 countries. The members provide emergency food aid, shelter, water and sanitation facilities and poverty reduction programs in the world's poorest countries. The alliance's combined annual budget is about $1.5 billion.