Pope calls for aid to stricken Peru

Pope Benedict has called on the world community to come to the aid of coastal regions in Peru devastated by Wednesday's earthquake.

Catholic News Service reports that in in a telegram sent to bishops of the dioceses affected by the magnitude 7.9 temblor, the Vatican's secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said the pope was deeply saddened upon hearing the news of the quake, which hit Aug. 15 and left more than 300 people dead and more than 1,300 injured. The hardest-hit areas were south of Lima.

The pope offered his prayers and condolences for all those affected by the quake and urged "institutions and people of good will to offer the needed aid to victims out of charity and a spirit of Christian solidarity."

Peru's Catholic Church is organising humanitarian aid for thousands of victims of the earthquake, collecting donations of food, water and blankets and channelling financial assistance to the affected region.

Roberto Tarazona of the national office of Caritas, the church's humanitarian and social development agency, said his office had been in contact with bishops in the affected area and that a Caritas team was en route to the area to assess the damage and coordinate aid efforts.

While Caritas' immediate response is humanitarian assistance, he said, people will need even more help in the weeks following the Aug. 15 quake, because aid tends to dry up once the immediate crisis is past.

The areas most affected will have to rebuild "production infrastructure, schools, community buildings, houses, water systems," Tarazona said. "Reconstruction is the hardest phase, because at that point often the government and other agencies stop providing assistance."

Officials reported at least 437 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured in the disaster, but the figures were expected to rise as rescue workers searched the rubble for victims and survivors. The National Civil Defense Institute said Aug. 16 it had registered 16,600 families whose homes had been destroyed.

Most of the damage, deaths and injuries occurred in towns on the south coast nearest the epicenter, about 100 miles south of Lima, Peru's capital city. Hardest hit were the areas of Pisco, Ica and Chincha, where adobe houses collapsed. At least 200 deaths were confirmed in Pisco, and there were reports of dead bodies in the streets as families awaited ambulances or other emergency assistance.

The National Civil Defense Institute reported that the number of victims had overwhelmed the capacity of hospitals in the area, and officials appealed for blood donations.

A tsunami warning issued immediately after the earthquake for the coasts of Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Mexico was canceled several hours later, but people living near the coast in the Lima metropolitan area were evacuated as a precaution.

During the quake, apartment buildings, trees and traffic lights swayed as thousands of residents of Peru's capital city spilled into the streets. The movement continued for nearly two minutes as the ground seemed to undulate underfoot.

Initial estimates indicated that more than half the houses in Ica and Pisco had been damaged or destroyed by the earthquake; many residences in those towns are older buildings made of mud bricks. Many schools were closed Aug. 16 as officials inspected them for damage, and the Ministry of Labor in Lima was closed when a seven-story crack appeared in the building's facade.

Tarazona said that while reconstruction is the government's task the church will focus on assisting the poorest residents, who are generally hardest hit by natural disasters.

"If they already live in poverty, on $1 a day, when an earthquake strikes they don't even have that," Tarazona said. "From extreme poverty they move to a situation - I don't have words to describe it, but it is scandalous to any Christian conscience."

Reconstruction takes longer for those people because it is more difficult for them to organize to demand services. Essentially, Tarazona said, "They don't exist."

In an interview on Peru's state-run television station, Archbishop Hector Cabrejos Vidarte of Trujillo, president of the Peruvian bishops' conference, appealed for donations of nonperishable food, blankets, medicine and water for the victims of the disaster and urged people to refrain from looting.

Pope asks world to come to aid of quake victims in Peru (Catholic News Service, 16/8/07)
Pope asks world to come to aid of quake victims in Peru (Catholic News Service, 16/8/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Peru (Wikipedia)
Caritas Australia

17 Aug 2007