December 22, 1999, NEW YORK CITY - Church World Service today transmitted funds for local purchase of blankets and mattresses for evacuees from Venezuela's coastal areas devastated by flash floods and mudslides, announced a $500,000 "first phase" response and laid the groundwork for longer-term reconstruction.
CWS, the National Council of Churches' emergency relief, development and refugee assistance ministry, transmitted an initial $20,000 for blankets and mattresses for 2,000 evacuees who are being sheltered in Barquisimeto and Caracas, Venezuela. Barquisimeto is one of several places the Venezuelan government has designated for eventual permanent resettlement of evacuees.
The evacuees are being served by CWS partner organizations, Centro de Educacion Popular Exeario Sosa Lujan (CEPEXSOL) in Barquisimeto and Caracas a Asociacion Civil Paz y Vida.
Church World Service is working in partnership with U.S. denominations and their Venezuelan counterparts, which are responding actively. For example, the Evangelical Pentecostal Union of Venezuela (UEPV) already has deployed 15 "response and solidarity teams" of 10 persons each that are providing shelter and other relief including clothing, food, medicine and potable water; pastoral care, and needs assessment services, especially among indigenous communities of the Guajiro Indians. And the Presbyterian Church of Venezuela is readying one of its camps to receive unaccompanied and orphaned children evacuated from affected areas.
Even as it helps meet the immediate needs of survivors, CWS is laying the groundwork to support the longer-term recovery and reconstruction needs in Venezuela. Don Tatlock, Church World Service/Comision Cristiana de Desarrollo (CCD) joint work team coordinator in Honduras, is preparing to fly to Venezuela early next week to assist in assessment and planning, and a CCD assessment team is expected to follow on January 3.
"The offer of technical assistance from CCD in Honduras meets one of our primary objectives of encouraging intra-regional capacity building," declared Rick Augsburger, CWS Emergency Response Office director. "The learnings that the survivors of Hurricane Mitch can transfer to the survivors of the Venezuela flooding are important toward encouraging local ownership of the immediate relief and long-term recovery efforts."
Just a year ago, CWS and its member churches were responding with some $2 million in assistance following Hurricane Mitch. Emergency aid led to reconstruction, including deployment of work teams. Similar response is expected in Venezuela, where the need is likely to be even greater.
"This is bigger than Hurricane Mitch," remarked Augsburger as he and others met to plan immediate and long-term assistance in Venezuela. "The number of individuals affected already has surpassed that of Hurricane Mitch."
Venezuelan government officials are calling the disaster the most severe ever in the country's history. The government has declared that at least 10,000 have died, and that the final death toll could be more than 20,000. At least 150,000 were made homeless, the BBC reported, most of them residents of shantytowns swept away by the unseasonably heavy coastal rains that lasted 10 days.
NOTE TO REPORTERS/EDITORS: When listing organizations receiving contributions for emergency aid to survivors of the flooding in Venezuela, please include Church World Service, Attn. Venezuela Flood Response, 28606 Phillips Street, PO Box 968, Elkhart, IN 46515. Telephone 1-800-297-1516, ext 222. For more information and updates and/or to make an on-line contribution, go to: http://www.churchworldservice.org