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Lutheran Disaster Response

Disaster Response and Human Rights

Eleanor Roosevelt, Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights, holding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Photo: FDR Library

On December 10, 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), written to address the atrocities committed during World War II. Since then, the United Nations and other bodies have adopted additional documents on human rights. The International Bill of Human Rights includes the UDHR, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Every year, International Human Rights Day is observed on December 10. To celebrate, we  are reflecting on a few of the articles in the UDHR in the context of disaster response and recovery.

 

Article 1: All humans are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

Article 2: Everyone is entitled to the rights and freedoms in this document, regardless of gender, sex, race, etc.

When a disaster hits a community, everyone is impacted in some way, but all too often,  some populations, including people of color and people living in poverty, are disproportionately affected by disasters and don’t have the resources to recover in the same way as more privileged communities. But after disasters, every human deserves to be able to recover and live with dignity and security, no matter their situation or background.

 

Article 13: Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state; Everyone has the right to leave any country, including their own, and to return to their country.

Article 14: Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.

Lutheran Disaster Response accompanies migrants and refugees around the world. Many are fleeing conflict, local violence, or economic hardships. Additionally, climate change is expected to be the biggest reason for migration this century. When people’s lives are disrupted by drought, constant flooding, hurricane after hurricane, some choose to move to a place less impacted by the intensifying disasters. People have the right to leave their home countries and seek safer lives, whatever the reason.

Alongside local partners, LDR supports refugees in Eastern Europe fleeing countries in the Middle East, Northern Africa and recently, Ukraine. LDR works with AMMPARO to accompany migrants from South and Central America that arrive in the United States.

 

Article 25: Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of [themself] and [their] family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond [their] control.

Disasters, whether natural or human-caused, affect the standard of living and quality of life for people impacted. Survivors can lose their home, belongings, jobs and may sustain injury due to disasters. LDR and our partners work to ensure that disaster survivors have the rights of Article 25 upheld. Our partners distribute food, clothing, hygiene supplies and items to ensure an adequate standard of living for disaster survivors. They also provide temporary shelter and repair and rebuild homes. During the COVID-19 pandemic, when many people around their world lost their jobs, LDR and our partners provided for families affected by the economic impacts of the pandemic, so people were able to meet their families’ needs.


Effective disaster response upholds all the rights described in the UDHR and subsequent documents. Even when people’s lives are upended by natural or human-caused disasters, their human rights should not be at stake. That’s why the work of LDR and our local partners in the U.S. and around the world is so important – after a disaster, when our neighbors are living in uncertainty, we walk with impacted communities, responding to their needs and supporting recovery efforts while simultaneously celebrating their strength and resilience.

 

Get involved

 

  1. Visit the ELCA Advocacy Action Center to contact your congress members about vital issues impacting our communities, including government disaster response program reform and supporting refugees.
  2. By volunteering in local disaster response through your synod or regional social ministry organization, you can ensure that survivors’ right to adequate living is met.
  3. LDR is a trusted partner in disaster response. Your gifts to LDR help accompany our neighbors when their lives are upended by disaster. 100% of your gifts to a designated disaster go to disaster survivors.

Advent, Disaster and Apocalypse

This past Sunday, across many Christian traditions, the season of Advent began. This season begins with apocalypse, revelation. Contrary to the popular and colloquial use of the term apocalypse, it does not mean “end of the world.”  Quite literally, apocalypse means revelation, pulling [the curtain] away. When a play begins there is an apocalypse – the curtain is drawn, and the show is revealed. When I was a child, every morning was apocalyptic; my mother would pull the covers off me, my day began exposed to the chilling reality of a new day.  

The entrance to a church sanctuary. There is debris across the floor and back pews. At the door threshold, a stone plaque in the ground reads "House of Prayer for All People."

The entrance to the sanctuary of St. Peter Lutheran Church in Fort Myers Beach, Fla. The plaque reads “House of Prayer for All People.”

Recently, I was honored to represent Lutheran Disaster Response alongside Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and Bishop Pedro Suarez of the FloridaBahamas Synod in bearing witness to the initial response and relief work in southwest Florida after Hurricane Ian. Many described the scene as apocalyptic – in both senses of the word. The power of creation manifest in a hurricane like Ian is awesome and horrifying. 

Disasters are apocalyptic. The fragility of human society and engineering is revealed in piles of rubble; the disparate impact disaster has on poor and working people, which are disproportionately communities of color. Mansions are left standing among the rubble of the homes of those who could not afford hurricane-resistant architectural upgrades. Those with strained finances fall further and further behind those with ample extra grain silos.  

Advent is also a season of hope. How can we hope in the midst of disaster, apocalypse? Jesus does not promise that his followers won’t be without suffering. In fact, throughout the Biblical witness, God is present in the midst of desolation and destruction. Even last Sunday, Jesus promised to be present during apocalypse, revelations of who we are as people, communities, and a society. The divine is not a source of the destruction, but the source of life which endures in its midst. Among the destruction in southwest Florida, one apocalypse of many, the Fountain of Life is alive and working through aid workers, emergency service providers, and neighbors offering mutual support; God’s voice echoes with those demanding justice; people from around the world are sharing their time and talents. Martin Luther is famed for teaching that humans are “simultaneously sinner and saint.” The apocalypse of disaster reveals both the shocking evil and persistent good. In this season of Advent, I invite you to join me in discerning the ways God is present in the midst of disaster, discerning what God is calling us to do, and participating in God’s saving, healing, feeding presence. 

 

 

Pastor Matthew Zemanick (he/they) is the Program Director for Lutheran Disaster Response Initiatives.

 

 

Situation Report: Kentucky Disasters

Situation:A map of the United States with Kentucky highlighted in blue.

In December 2021, western Kentucky was hit by a series of deadly and destructive tornadoes, destroying over 1,300 homes. In July 2022, record-setting floods inundated communities in eastern Kentucky. The flooding caused heavy damage to homes and local infrastructure. Recovery in both areas will takes years.

A white house with a black door and a window with black shutters on each side of the door.

A rebuilt house in eastern Kentucky.

 

Response:

Since December, Lutheran Disaster Response has been working closely with the Indiana-Kentucky Synod in developing long-term recovery plans for each disaster. In each region, the synod is collaborating with local partners to repair and rebuild homes damaged by the tornadoes and flooding. The grants from Lutheran Disaster Response are being used for construction material and labor costs.

 

 

Be part of the response:

Pray
Please pray for people who have been affected by the tornadoes and flooding in Kentucky over the past year. May God’s healing presence give them peace and hope in their time of need.

Give
Thanks to generous donations, Lutheran Disaster Response is able to respond quickly and effectively to disasters around the globe. Your gifts to Lutheran Disaster Response will be used to assist survivors of Hurricane Ian and other disasters around the world.

To learn more about the situation and the ELCA’s response:

  • Sign up to receive Lutheran Disaster Response alerts.
  • Check the Lutheran Disaster Response blog.
  • Like Lutheran Disaster Response on Facebook, follow @ELCALDR on Twitter, and follow @ELCA_LDR on Instagram.
  • Download the situation report and share as a PDF.

European fuel shortage: Refugees and hosts face a challenging winter

“Energy blackmail”

The European Union is a world leader when it comes to replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy. The World Economic Forum reported early in 2022 that the EU had “passed another milestone in the race towards a zero-carbon future,” sourcing 22 percent of its energy from renewables in 2020 – ahead of the 20% target the bloc had set in 2009.

But that won’t be enough to keep Europe warm this winter, as a fuel crisis the likes of which hasn’t been seen since World War II grips the continent.

Officials have warned of potential rolling blackouts, manufacturing disruptions and economic fallout from the natural gas shortage, a direct consequence of the war in Ukraine. Prior to the war, Russia supplied around 40 percent of the natural gas used to heat European homes, businesses and houses of worship. In response to Western sanctions, Russia has severely slowed delivery of natural gas to the continent in a move some have called “energy blackmail.”

The Russian supply of natural gas to Europe has fallen nearly 90 percent since this time last year. The shortage, coupled with inflation, rising costs for electricity, and a shortage of hydroelectric power due to drought, creates something of a perfect storm as temperatures fall and demand rises. There have even been reports of people hoarding wood to burn for warmth.

 

The church prays for warmth

Pastor Lukasz Ostruszka and his family with Svetlana (left), one of the refugees from Ukraine who is staying in the Lutheran parish in Krakow.

For churches and others hosting refugees from Ukraine – some 7 million have left the country to find safety elsewhere in Europe – the impact will be compounded. In Krakow, Poland, for example, a Lutheran congregation has had a dozen families living in its parish hall for more than six months. Their utilities costs had already increased significantly due to the additional use of water, electricity and natural gas. Pastor Lukasz Ostruszka says he’s praying for a warm winter.

“Our government says everything will be okay, we will have gas, we have a plan,” he says. He laughs a bit. “They don’t have gas. They don’t have a plan. Warm winter, that’s the only hope.” Pr. Lukasz says he tries not to worry about it, though, since he has so many other things to worry about. “I hope God will help us,” he says.

“It will be a big problem,” says the Rev. Marta Bolba, pastor of Mandak House, a Lutheran congregation in Budapest, Hungary. “They’re saying the bills for heating will be seven times higher than normal. It’s not a poor people’s problem, it’s really the whole society; how can we pay our own bills?”

 

A sustainable future

Wind turbines in a field

Wind turbines in Slovakia.

European leaders met in early October to begin discussing possible mitigation strategies and will meet again later this month.

The crisis, says the United Nations, “underscores the urgency of transitioning away from fossil fuels.”

“As long as energy security is tied to oil and gas, it will remain susceptible to market volatility and price shocks,” says a recent report from UN Women. “And the role of fossil fuels in agricultural production and distribution—for example, natural gas’s role in the production of nitrogen-based fertilizers—means that oil price shocks also drive increased volatility in food prices.” This means it’s not just the Europeans trying to stay warm through the winter months who are suffering the consequences of the shortage. Its effects are being felt around the world, most acutely in the poorest nations.

While this church would welcome an increased sense of urgency globally to break our collective reliance on fossil fuels, we also recognize that such a change won’t come quickly. As we pray for, and work toward, a more sustainable future, we walk alongside our partners in Europe as they face a difficult winter.

 

Emily Sollie is a freelance writer, editor and communications consultant. She lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband and 4-year old son, and is a member of Lutheran Church of the Reformation. 

Situation Report: Hurricane Ian

Situation:Map of the United States with the state of Florida highlighted

On Sept. 27, Hurricane Ian made landfall in Cuba, causing severe flooding and an island-wide power outage. The next day, it hit Florida as a high-end Category 4 hurricane. A dangerous storm surge, coastal flooding and strong winds damaged buildings and infrastructure, making rescue efforts more difficult. In total, at least 137 people died, with 126 of those deaths in Florida.

St. Peter Evangelical Lutheran Church in Fort Myers, FL

 

 

 

Response:

Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR) is coordinating a response with the Florida-Bahamas Synod. The synod is providing small relief grants to impacted families and will continue to offer relief as additional needs are identified. LDR is sending a group of pastors to impacted areas to offer respite and emotional and spiritual care. The synod and Lutheran Disaster Response are also developing a long-term rebuilding and recovery response. In Cuba, ACT Alliance is responding with the Rapid Relief Fund, which LDR contributed to at the beginning of the year.


Be part of the response:

Pray
Please pray for people who have been affected by Hurricane Ian. May God’s healing presence give them peace and hope in their time of need.

Give
Thanks to generous donations, Lutheran Disaster Response is able to respond quickly and effectively to disasters around the globe. Your gifts to Lutheran Disaster Response will be used to assist survivors of Hurricane Ian and other disasters around the world.

To learn more about the situation and the ELCA’s response:

  • Sign up to receive Lutheran Disaster Response alerts.
  • Check the Lutheran Disaster Response blog.
  • Like Lutheran Disaster Response on Facebook, follow @ELCALDR on Twitter, and follow @ELCA_LDR on Instagram.
  • Download the situation report and share as a PDF.

Situation Report: Pakistan Flooding

Situation:A map of Asia with Pakistan highlighted in blue.

Since June 2022, Pakistan has experienced historic monsoon weather, with rainfall leading to torrential flooding. The flooding is causing a widespread humanitarian crisis, with people losing homes, crops and livestock. Millions of people are displaced and in need of humanitarian assistance, such as food, temporary shelter, health services and other supplies.

 

 

 

A makeshift shelter made of wooden poles and tarps.

A makeshift shelter in Pakistan. Photo: Community World Service Asia

 

 

 

Response:

Lutheran Disaster Response is contributing to an appeal from ACT Alliance to address the monsoon flooding in Pakistan. The implementing partner, Community World Service Asia (CWSA) will provide cash assistance so impacted families can buy food and other needs. CWSA is also setting up mobile health clinics to address health needs and will help communities build the capacity to construct flood-resilient homes. The homes are being built by local laborers involved as part of a cash for work program.


Be part of the response:

Pray
Please pray for people who have been affected by the flooding in Pakistan. May God’s healing presence give them peace and hope in their time of need.

Give
Thanks to generous donations, Lutheran Disaster Response is able to respond quickly and effectively to disasters around the globe. Your gifts to Lutheran Disaster Response (Lutheran Disaster Response-International) will be used to assist survivors of the flooding and other disasters around the world.

To learn more about the situation and the ELCA’s response:

  • Sign up to receive Lutheran Disaster Response alerts.
  • Check the Lutheran Disaster Response blog.
  • Like Lutheran Disaster Response on Facebook, follow @ELCALDR on Twitter, and follow @ELCA_LDR on Instagram.
  • Download the situation report and share as a PDF.