Lutheran Disaster Response

Our response to disasters in the U.S. and around the world; look for sections of this blog related to specific disaster locations. Comments are welcomed and moderated.

El Salvador: “Without Retaining Dikes, There is No Food”

Posted on September 17, 2012 by Matthew Ley

The title of this post comes from an advocacy piece written by ELCA Missionary Stephen Deal entitled “Sin borda…no hay comida”. The phrase has become the rallying cry of communities who live along a 10 kilometer stretch of the Paz River in the southwest corner of El Salvador. These communities, including many Lutherans, have been affected by annual flooding, like that of last October where 10 days of torential rains led to heavy throughout Central America and especially along the Paz River.

Much of this flooding occurs due to the lack of a system of retaining dikes at key points along the Paz River – which serves as the border between El Salvador and Guatemala. The consequences are predictable and often tragic: destruction of crops, homes, roads, bridges, farm animals and even the loss of human life. To help lift up this issue the communties formed the Inter-Community Association for the Development of Southern Ahuachapan (ADICO) which has been adovacting Salvadorian authorities for these dikes since the massive flooding of Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Yet for the most part these pleas have fallen on deaf ears and efforts have fallen off.

After last years major flooding event the communities decided to redouble efforts with ADICO and have been blessed with positive results. The authorities were beginning to listen and actions were starting to take shape, like a dredging project to help mitigate some flooding. A great victory and step forward this action offers a short-term fix to a longer-term problem.

“We are tired of being treated as victims; tired of being the recipients of charity . . . we want to be listened to.” – Inter-Community Association for the Development of Southern Ahuachapan (ADICO) representative in El Salvador

The communities are continuing to advocate for a dike system or another alternative to bring a permanent, sustainable solution to the problem of flooding. The ELCA is helping in this important work of disaster risk reduction and preparedness, through generous gifts to our Disaster Response fund and continued relationships of support with our local companions as they work to fulfill the quote above, to move from victims and recipients to empowered citizens engaged in their own solutions.

I think Stephen sums it up best in the closing words of his article: “Thanks be to God for the dedication of ADICO and Lutheran church leaders as they work to bring a measure of peace and stability to the lives and livelihoods of everyone living in this part of El Salvador. Thanks be to God also for the opportunities we have to accompany them through our prayers, visits & offerings!”

Read Stephen’s Update No Borda…No Hay Comida

Gifts to ELCA Disaster Response allow the church to respond locally and globally in times of need. Donate now.

South Sudan: Reflection from the Field

Posted on May 25, 2012 by Matthew Ley

Sarah Dreier is the Legislative Representative for International Policy, a position shared jointly between the ELCA Washington Office and the Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations. She reflects upon her recent trip to South Sudan and suggests how you can get involved.

Resilience amidst uncertainty: Lessons from South Sudan

“But what do you do to cope?” I asked my new friend, Anne, who coordinates Lutheran World Federation refugee programming in Kenya and lived in the Dadaab refugee camp for several years.

Anne looked up at me with a sparkle in her eye.

“In Dadaab, we dance. Every night, we dance.”

South Sudanese dancing and singing at an afternoon celebration in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. Credit: ELCA/Megan Bradfield

I saw this same resilience thriving across South Sudan, amidst the conflict, poverty, and desperate need for development – thriving over the daily trials. It was in the young woman, gracefully carrying gallons of water overhead as she strolled down Bor’s dusty, dirt road. I saw it in a local performance troupe, dancing and singing under Juba’s scorching afternoon sun. It was in Jonglei State’s tribal leaders as they returned once again to try to negotiate a peaceful resolution to their tribal conflicts that have taken so many lives this year. I felt from my fellow worshipers in the vibrant, packed Cathedral in Juba late Sunday morning and into Sunday afternoon. And I heard it in the powerful voice of South Sudan’s Minister of Labour as she commanded international aid agencies to hire more South Sudanese employees.

This is a resilience that the South Sudanese carry along with their looming memories of incomprehensible turmoil and their expectations for future uncertainty. I learned that one local development colleague who is working tirelessly to strengthen South Sudanese agricultural capacities while addressing the daily realities of malaria, poverty-based hunger, and conflict, had been kidnapped as a small boy to become a child soldier. Another young man had fled to a Ugandan refugee camp as a baby and returned to his country—on foot with his wife and two young children—only last year, when South Sudan became independent.

“How long did it take you to walk back?” I asked.

“Three or four days, only. But for you, it would take much longer,” he said with a grin.

Workers building an LWF emergency response compound outside Bor. Credit: ELCA/Megan Bradfield

It is hard for me to comprehend the daily challenges and insecurities the South Sudanese face. The tribes in Jonglei State just last week arrived at a delicate peace agreement to end violence, cattle raiding, and child abductions amongst them and have begun an equally precarious disarmament process focused (in part) on retrieving weapons from youth. South Sudan’s escalating war with Sudan (driven in large part by oil) has absorbed precious state resources away from development, forcing South Sudanese to live with unpaved dirt roads, insufficient education, bare-minimum health care services, and little capacity to farm their nutrient-rich land. Meanwhile, South Sudanese and other Christians living in the north face increased persecution and those living in the border regions live under the constant threat of random attack or starvation. But through it all, the South Sudanese remain resilient, wise, and capable.

Yet U.S. policies and rhetoric do not reflect the South Sudanese’ promising capacity to thrive and flourish—by growing their own food, for example—which is tragically thwarted by a severe lack of resources.

Americans should shift our narrative—and the United States government its development policies—in South Sudan, away from assumptions of despair, to reflect this Sudanese capacity for resilience.

Tell your Representative to join the 14 Republicans and 62 Democrats who support HR 4169, the Sudan Peace, Security, and Accountability Act of 2012, and to support the bill’s underlying commitment to sustainable peace and development by supplementing U.S. food assistance with robust funding to U.S. programs that invest in agricultural development and small-scale farming in South Sudan and around the world.

For more information check out the e-Advocacy Alert.

Minot, ND: LDR Involved in Discussion of Billion Dollar Shortfall

Posted on April 13, 2012 by Matthew Ley

The Minot Daily News had a good piece last week that in part highlights the role of Lutheran Disaster Response work in the long process of disaster response. The topic of the article is a discussion of the Minot Unmet Needs Committee with government officials of the continuing need following the June 2011 floods. The estimate is around one billion dollars in need. At the end of the article Shirley Dykshoorn, state director for Lutheran Disaster Response in North Dakota (a program of Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota), is quoted about the vital nature of matching material needs with volunteer resources.

The article in general is a nice reminder of how LDR is involved for the long-haul and in many ways behind the scenes. Also, Shirley’s words are spot on and really drive home the importance of proper coordination in disaster response.

To learn more read the article: Billion dollar shortfall

To volunteer check out Hope Village

Gifts to ELCA Disaster Response allow the church to respond at home and globally in times of need. Donate now.

Advocacy: Drought Affected East and West Africa

Posted on April 5, 2012 by Matthew Ley

The following message is from the ELCA e-Advocacy list. This lists is sent out by the Advocacy office of the ELCA to inform people of the what political issues are going on and how people can get involved. This particular message is about the situation of drought in East Africa and now West Africa, how actions within the US Congress can impact the situation and how you can get involved.

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Before we turn our hearts and minds to Jesus’ path to the cross and joyous resurrection this holy weekend, we can first follow Christ’s teachings by urging Congress to act on behalf of the millions in Africa living in dire insecurity and uncertainty.

Conflict, draught, and resulting food shortages have left tens of millions of people – from Sahel to Sudan to Somalia – in crisis, facing starvation and malnutrition and forced to leave their homes and relocate in refugee camps. These men, women, and children will face even greater hardship if we do not act to protect U.S. funding for the life-saving programs upon which they depend for food, clean water and secure shelter.

In the Horn of Africa

13 million people are currently living in food crisis, still suffering from the effects of last year’s drought which forced millions to leave their homes to take refuge in camps.

Meanwhile, the plight of famine has spread west, putting 15.5 million people in West Africa’s Sahel region at risk, including eight million who need emergency assistance. Over ten million already face food insecurity and an additional one million children are at risk of severe malnutrition. Chad, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger are all experiencing dangerously high malnutrition levels while in Mali alone, conflict and food shortages have displaced 100,000 people. The crisis is only expected to worsen in the coming months.

Between the crises to their east and west, Sudan and South Sudan suffer while combating their own humanitarian crises. An estimated 200,000 people have been displaced or severely affected by violence in South Kordofan, an area vulnerable to Sudan’s Armed Forces’ aerial bombing, ground attacks, sexual violence, denial of humanitarian assistance, and other tactics which some have dubbed ‘weapons of mass starvation.’ An estimated 28,000 Sudanese have been forced to relocate to South Sudan’s Yida refugee camp.

Through its membership in The Lutheran World Federation, the ELCA is participating in relief efforts with Lutheran churches and partners in these emergency crises.

Yet in the midst of these dire and enduring crises, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the House Budget Committee’s fiscal year 2013 Budget Resolution last week, which cuts the International Affairs Budget by 11 percent. The cuts include the eliminating Feed the Future and cutting the U.S. Agency for International Development’s International Disaster Assistance by 40 to 60 percent. Meanwhile, the President’s fiscal year 2013 budget request proposes cuts to essential poverty-focused programs that provide refugees and displaced people with access to food, shelter, and water, including a 13.3% cut ($250
million) to the Migration and Refugee Assistance.

CLICK HERE to tell your senators and representative to maintain funding for the International Affairs Accounts that provide essential food, water, shelter, and support to the millions of refugees around the world who have been forced to make incomprehensible sacrifices.

Want to do more? Call your senators and representatives, who are at home in your district during recess, and tell them to protect the International Affairs account from the deep, disproportionate cuts made in the House of Representatives’ FY13 Budget Resolution.