Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

From Bangladesh to Costa Rica, Demand for Aid Floods Agencies DISASTER RELIEF

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

From Bangladesh to Costa Rica, Demand for Aid Floods Agencies DISASTER RELIEF

Article excerpt

PHILIPPE BOULLE laughs ironically at the suggestion that he must be working 24 hours a day.

"Wrong," says the New York director of the United Nations Disaster Relief Organization, "48 hours a day."

Indeed, international relief officials have difficulty recalling such a frenetic time with so many people in diverse points of the planet at risk from a variety of disasters, natural and man-made.

After weeks of squalor and desperation, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurdish refugees are finally going home. In Bangladesh, 4 million to 5 million people remain at risk following the country's deadliest cyclone in 20 years. Peru's cholera epidemic is threatening Latin America. Costa Rica and Soviet Georgia are digging out from earthquakes.

Even Burma (also known as Myanmar) is on Mr. Boulle's list, two weeks after a fire there left 25,000 people homeless and in need of relief supplies.

But the biggest crisis of all - what relief officials call a "slow-moving disaster" - has barely begun to make headlines: looming mass starvation in Africa that could be worse than the famine of 1984-85. Some 27 million people across the continent are affected. Deaths from starvation have already been reported in Sudan, where the World Food Program estimates some 7.7 million people are at risk. In Ethiopia, that number could reach 6 million.

"It gives one a sense of how vulnerable much of the world is," says Rudy von Bernuth, chief operating officer of CARE. "And it shows that there are many parts of the world where it doesn't take much to push the situation over the edge."

International development and relief organizations, where tight resources are a constant, report a mixed bag of donation patterns from the American public. Catholic Relief Services reports a 5 percent drop. CARE says giving is up 6 percent. At the American Red Cross, says press spokeswoman Ann Stingle, "people are donating, but probably at a slower rate than we'd normally expect." She cites the recession as one restraint on donations.

Karen Childers, head of direct mail for Save the Children, speaks of "an incredible response": $550,000 in the past couple of weeks in response to a special appeal for the Kurds and $70,000 for Bangladesh that came in "spontaneously."

But even an increase in donations pales in the face of demand. Bangladesh alone has declared that it needs $1.4 billion for relief and rebuilding.

To help ease immediate problems, such as contaminated drinking water, President Bush Sunday ordered thousands of US marines and Army Special Forces to join the international effort in the cyclone-torn country. …

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