As 2005 dawned, Church humanitarian representatives were in southeast Asia, launching a massive Latter-day Saint relief effort in the tsunami-devastated region. Twelve months later the year ended as tents and winter clothing donated by the Church helped earthquake victims in Pakistan avert a second disaster brought on by freezing temperatures and harsh conditions.
The Indian Ocean earthquake, with the resulting tsunami, was the second deadliest earthquake in the past 100 years; the Pakistan/India earthquake, striking less than eight months later, was the seventh deadliest in the same time period. Latter-day Saint responses to the two disasters are now bookends in what can be considered Church Humanitarian Services' most notable year both in the number of major disasters occurring around the world and in the Church's increased ability to respond to them.
Presiding Bishop H. David Burton said he cannot recall another year in recent history that even comes close to paralleling the magnitude of disasters the world experienced in 2005 "from the very, very severest earthquakes, to the tsunamis, to the hurricanes, to the floods, to the mud slides."
In addition, the Church's ability to assist others has increased year after year as other humanitarian organizations (many with which the Church now partners) have become acquainted with the Church, he said. "They know our integrity. They know that when we commit, we follow through. I think we have earned a place among the very best of the non-governmental organizations around the world."
In 2005 dubbed the "year of natural disasters" by the World Health Organization the Church responded to emergencies in 67 countries, distributing 1.7 million hygiene, school, newborn and cleaning kits; 7.6 million pounds of food; 260,000 blankets; 1.3 million pounds of medical supplies and 2 million pounds of clothing, said Garry Flake, director of Church Emergency Response.
"We take very, very seriously the admonition of the Lord to look after one another, and that charity is the pure love of Christ," said Bishop Burton.
In addition to emergency responses in Pakistan/India and southeast Asia, the Church reached out to help refugees in Sudan and Angola; malnourished children in Niger, Kenya and Paraguay; victims of war in Liberia; flooding victims in Bulgaria, Romania and Guyana; and hurricane victims in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, the Caribbean, and the United States' Gulf Coast. Three of the eighth costliest hurricanes in U.S. history occurred in 2005. (Katrina was the most costly, Rita the sixth most costly and Wilma the eighth.)
Bishop Burton expressed "tremendous appreciation" for Church members and others whose donations make Church humanitarian aid possible. Tithing is not used for humanitarian aid; fast offerings unless otherwise designated by the First Presidency as was the case in the 1984 fast to aid the Ethiopian hunger crisis and Jan. 2, 2005, fast for tsunami victims are used at the discretion of local bishops. "We have the fast and the blessings of the fast offering that help us take care of one another," Bishop Burton said, explaining that donations to the Humanitarian Aid Fund then fuel the Church's ability to reach out to people of other faiths.
"The Church as an institution could not do a single thing without the generosity of the members, both in terms of money, but also in terms of goods and supplies and their own muscle and labor," he said. "The institution of the Church is just the catalyst to bring all that together. It is with deep appreciation that we are able to go forward as an institution."
Bishop Burton said many not of the faith also choose to contribute to the Church's humanitarian efforts because of the Church's pledge that 100 percent of donations reach those in need; no administrative costs are deducted from donations to Church Humanitarian Services. After the tsunami, for example, Web traffic on ldsfoundation.org the web site for LDS Foundation, the organization now called LDS Philanthropies that coordinates, encourages, and facilitates donations to the Church was unprecedented, peaking at 90,000 visitors and about a half-million page views per day, said spokesman McClain Bybee. Much of that traffic was generated by members of other faiths, linking to the Church site from national Web sites including CNN.com, MSNBC.com and USAID.com.
And those donations were just a fraction of the total collected by the Church for tsunami relief. The First Presidency invited members to contribute "most generously" in fast offerings Jan. 2, 2005. Members' response was beyond expectation.
As a result, the Church's work in tsunami-devastated Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India and Myanmar will continue through 2006 and 2007, said Bishop Burton. In this case the Church was able to do something it had not done before: reach out beyond emergency response and offer long-term assistance.
The Church, Bishop Burton said, can respond quickly because of its effective storehouse system. The Church will stay in the mode of emergency response, offering longer-term aid only when appropriate on an individual basis, he added.
But one thing is sure, he concluded. The Church will "absolutely" continue to offer aid whenever possible, wherever people suffer.
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