Charity reports Juneau residents donated $44,500 for tsunami relief

Posted: Monday, May 23, 2005

Juneau residents donated about $44,500 to Catholic Relief Services to help victims of the devastating late-December tsunami in India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, the agency said.

In all, Americans gave the agency about $146 million for its tsunami-relief efforts, said Chandreyee Banerjee, the CRS tsunami coordinator, in a phone interview from Baltimore.

The agency welcomes the public's continued interest in the tsunami relief, "beyond the CNN moment," but it would rather see new donations for other emergencies worldwide, such as in Darfur, Banerjee said.

About 1.6 million people have been displaced by what the United States considers genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Catholic Relief Services is now engaged in a five- to seven-year plan to help victims of the tsunami. It includes building permanent housing. Nearly one million people were displaced in Indonesia alone, Banerjee said.

Also on the long-term list are increasing access to clean water, reducing child labor, and helping countries prepare for disasters.

"We have a larger number of staff (there) now than in the first stages," she said.

Catholic Relief Services works in 99 countries. It already had 200 staffers in India, for example, and was able to start its response within a day of the big storm on Dec. 26, 2004.

It sent additional staff from elsewhere into Indonesia and Sri Lanka, and began to respond within two days, Banerjee said.

"The immediate needs were food, shelter, health and trauma counseling," she said.

As relief efforts continue, they take different forms. In India, for example, the homeless first went to community buildings and schools for shelter.

Eventually, though, their presence would have prevented schools from reopening for classes, so the homeless moved to temporary structures of corrugated iron, brick and roofing materials.

At some point, permanent housing will be built.

One reason for reopening schools was to give children a safe place to be. Relief agencies were concerned that in the chaos children would be stolen and sold into the sex trade, Banerjee said.

Bishop Michael Warfel of the Juneau Archdiocese said he was aghast at the tsunami as it was unfolding, "it was such an overwhelming thing."

Not all of the local donors to Catholic Relief Services were necessarily Catholic, Warfel said. And the agency wasn't the only organization to receive funds from Juneau residents.

But Catholic Relief Services has a reputation for being effective because it already has a presence in many countries, Warfel said. That means the agency knows what's needed, he said.

He observed the agency's work in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras after Hurricane Mitch, which devastated Central America in October 1998.

"I promote them because I know they have a very effective mechanism set up in the world for relief for people," he said. "They actually get needed materials to people. They're not frivolous."

• Eric Fry can be reached at

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