Bright Spots in the Tsunami Relief Efforts

Holy See on Lessons to Be Learned From the Disaster

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NEW YORK, JULY 14, 2005 ( The relief efforts carried out in the wake of the Dec. 26 Asian tsunami point up the importance of civilian initiatives and of interreligious dialogue, says the Holy See.

Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Holy See’s permanent observer to the United Nations, delivered that message when addressing the U.N. Social and Economic Council, during a recent session dedicated to «Special Economic, Humanitarian and Disaster Relief Assistance: Lessons Learned from the Tsunami.»

The crisis, which left some 300,000 dead, was followed by «an unprecedented humanitarian response which saw ordinary people meet and even surpass the pledges of their own governments in the face of a terrible and widespread act of nature,» Archbishop Migliore said in his July 13 address.

The papal representative recalled that shortly after the tragedy struck, «The Holy See was able immediately to provide over $4 million in emergency relief.»

«Dozens of Catholic agencies quickly followed this up,» he said, «with projects for the reconstruction of homes and schools in India, Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.

«It is estimated that around $650 million has been made available by agencies related to the Holy See to the peoples affected by the tsunami, to say nothing of the work still being done by a number of local religious institutions present and active in humanitarian and developmental projects throughout the region.»

First to be aided

The Holy See official continued: «The funds just mentioned were firstly applied to the most urgent emergency needs: safe drinking water, food, shelter, clothing, trauma and health care, medical follow-up, hygiene and sanitation, cooking equipment and disease control. Refugees, IDPs [internally displaced people] and women and children especially vulnerable to human trafficking and exploitation, were among the first to be helped.

«After the emergency phase, reconstruction and rehabilitation projects were begun, including the rebuilding of homes, schools, and hospitals, not to mention the provision of agricultural and fishing equipment to restore independent livelihoods, and help in transportation and educational programs.»

When illustrating the lessons that must be learned from the world’s generous response, Archbishop Migliore said, «We are committed in all circumstances to respect religious and cultural differences, and to working amicably to facilitate greater trust among believers of all faiths and nonbelievers.»

«Interreligious cooperation and peace-building initiatives will continue to form an important element of the Church’s work there,» he said.

Like a global village

«The natural and heartfelt solidarity of the peoples of the world was there for all to see and,» the archbishop added, «at a time when the international media help make the world ever more like a global village, it is heartening to know that a deep sense of our common humanity showed itself quickly and positively in favor of the survivors of this tragedy.

«As the international community helped real people in real situations of need, a spontaneous understanding of the centrality of the human person, with a broad sensitivity and respect for people’s cultural and religious circumstances, became clear.»

Another lesson the Catholic Church has learned is «ways of avoiding the creation of a bloated bureaucracy to deal with the emergency, in order to ensure the delivery of the greatest amount of funding to its proper final destination,» Archbishop Migliore said.

«Streamlining and coordination are crucial in avoiding the careless attribution of resources,» he noted.

The prelate added that, paradoxically, «The tragedy, having generated so much attention, good will and financial support, has actually presented the affected governments and peoples with an unprecedented opportunity for reconstruction and development.»

He said: «The internal, bilateral, north-south and south-south cooperation which was seen at the time is a platform, not to be squandered, but to be built upon for the good both of the survivors and of all the peoples of the region.»

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