The World Responds to Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami
Read about relief efforts following the December 26 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami that brought devastation to Asian and African countries. Learn about the pope's appeal to help the victims of this catastrophe, as well as the donated time, money and efforts of Church charities and workers.
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As the death toll from the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunamis soared, Pope John Paul II invited international agencies and individuals to give generously toward relief efforts.
Speaking at his weekly general audience at the Vatican Dec. 29, the pope said he was especially concerned about the risk of epidemics in the wake of the catastrophic flooding, which left beaches from India to Thailand littered with corpses. As of Dec. 30, the magnitude 9 earthquake in the Indian Ocean and resulting tsunamis killed more than 114,000 people in 12 countries, primarily in Asia, but also in Africa.
"The reports coming from Asia reveal more and more the enormity of this immense catastrophe," Pope John Paul said.
He praised the international community for rapidly mobilizing aid efforts and said the church's charitable agencies were doing the same. The previous day the Vatican said at least $6 million in church aid had already been earmarked for the affected areas.
In a Dec. 28 statement, the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum" said Caritas Italy earmarked $4 million for disaster relief while Caritas Internationalis, the 162-member confederation of Catholic charity organizations, already had collected $2 million for relief operations.
In a Dec. 30 statement, Caritas Internationalis said Caritas India was helping with the vital task of recovery and burial of bodies -- a necessary first step to prevent the spread of water-born diseases and epidemics.
The statement said Caritas member organizations had begun to send in medical professionals and fund supplies to support local staffs and hospitals that were providing immediate care.
More aid will follow once Caritas assessment teams arriving in late December complete their evaluations of the overall situations in the hardest-hit areas of India and Sri Lanka, it said.
In India, Caritas Asia's executive director, Father Yvon Ambroise, told UCA News, an Asian church news agency based in Thailand, that a Caritas emergency response team would reach Sri Lanka by Dec. 30. The team was to assess the damage and recommend strategies to better manage relief efforts, he said.
He said another team would be formed for India, where four coastal states and a territory of remote Indian Ocean islands were badly hit.
The priest said he would spend a week in Indonesia, where Caritas is "suspended because of some internal problems." He said he would meet with local officials to form a task force to begin relief operations.
Father Ambroise also was scheduled to visit Thailand and, with local church officials, plan ways to get relief to hard-hit villages on Thailand's western coast, which is dotted with island resorts. Foreigners reportedly account for half the casualties in Thailand.
Father Ambroise said that compared to the other affected areas damage in Myanmar and Bangladesh was minor, so church organizations there would plan their own relief measures.
In Thailand, Father Phibul Visitnonthachai, director of the Thai bishops' Office for Emergency Relief and Refugees, said his office would coordinate a massive assistance campaign that would focus on emergency relief for poor fishing people, as opposed to tourist resorts. Almost the entire length of Thailand's southwestern coastline was engulfed by waves, reported UCA News.
"That area is home to thousands of fishermen," Father Piergiacomo Urbani, a missionary, told Asianews, an Italian-based missionary news agency, Dec. 27. "No one knows what has become of them."
In Baltimore, Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops' international relief and development agency, committed $25 million for emergency relief and long-term rehabilitation programs in Asia. A CRS statement said the agency's response was expected to increase. The agency's Web site crashed temporarily Dec. 29 because response to an appeal for donations was so great.
Across the United States, bishops called for special collections to help relief efforts. The Catholic community on the Pacific island territory of Guam said it would devote the entire month of January to raise funds for the tsunami victims.
The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace said it had pledged an initial $100,000 (US$82,400), primarily to partner agencies in India and Sri Lanka, and expected its contribution to increase.
CRS and Development and Peace are members of the Caritas network.
Msgr. John E. Kozar, national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States, said, "The challenge to the church will be to help the people rebuild their homes -- and their lives."
Msgr. Kozar praised groups like CRS for providing immediate relief and said the Pontifical Mission Societies had set up a special fund for long-term assistance.
U.N. officials in Geneva said Dec. 29 that up to 5 million people lacked basic necessities such as food, water or sanitation after the Dec. 26 disasters.