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UMCOR, relief agencies respond to Asia earthquake

Oct. 10, 2005

By United Methodist News Service

The United Methodist Committee on Relief and ecumenical partner agencies are responding to the Oct. 8 earthquake that shook Pakistan and India, leaving a death toll that some reports place at more than 30,000.

UMCOR is sending aid to the region through its partners, the International Blue Crescent and Church World Service.

The 7.6-magnitude earthquake was centered in the Pakistani-controlled section of Kashmir, where more than 19,000 people were reported killed. Another 750 people died in the Indian-controlled section of the contested area, and additional deaths occurred outside the province and in Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of people were reported injured. Villages throughout the region were destroyed, leaving as many as 2.5 million people in need of shelter, according to the Associated Press.

“The disaster is as massive or even more massive than people are aware of,” said the Rev. Paul Dirdak, top staff executive of UMCOR. The agency is a unit of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

News reports put the death toll in the range of 20,000 to 30,000, and some relief officials put the figure much higher. Dirdak cautioned about the figures being reported, since no specific number of deaths is known. He also noted there are isolated areas northwest of the quake’s epicenter that have not yet been reached by outside officials and relief workers.

As large as Church World Service and International Blue Crescent are, Dirdak added, “they represent a very tiny fraction of the need.”

The International Blue Crescent said it urgently needs medicine, food, water and blankets. It is distributing 50,000 blankets and will supply meal packages to as many as 3,000 survivors, according to UMCOR’s Web site.

UMCOR is also providing a grant to Church World Service, which has offices in Pakistan and provided emergency food to 1,600 families Oct. 9. Church World Service is organizing medical camps in the affected areas and will provide emergency shelter kits consisting of a tent, ground sheet and plastic sheeting, UMCOR reported.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

The Rev. Paul Dirdak, director of UMCOR, surveys tsunami damage in Indonesia in this January 2005 file photo.
Tremors from the quake were felt as far away as Afghanistan, but UMCOR staff in Kabul were not affected, according to a note from Guy Hovey, regional director for Europe and Asia.

Mohammed Hanif Malik, head of mission for UMCOR in Indonesia, reported that his immediate family was safe but that close relatives living in Muzaffarabad, a destroyed town in Kashmir, were missing or killed. UMCOR aid will be distributed in the town through the International Blue Crescent.

“Church World Service facilities in Mansehra and Murree in northern Pakistan sustained minor damage, but we are relieved that all staff in our Islamabad office survived, are accounted for, and are responding,” said Donna Derr, acting director of CWS Emergency Programs. “We are grieved to report, however, that one of the staff members at our Mansehra office reports that his wife and children died in their home, when the home collapsed in the earthquake.”

Church World Service said Oct. 9 it was responding to the quake with expedited food relief and shelter kits to survivors in Muree Hills. Access to affected areas was hampered because of road damage, but Church World Service said its Basic Health Unit staff was reporting an increasing flow of people with medical needs.

The agency’s medical teams in Mansehra area were “out in the community providing tetanus shots to everyone around,” said Shama Mall, senior program manager of Church World Service Pakistan/Afghanistan, Oct. 9.

“The situation is still very chaotic here,” Mall said from Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, where the quake also caused death and destruction. “Right now, everyone is focusing on rescue efforts, but those have been made difficult by the heavy rains and hail that hit some of the affected areas.”

Church World Service Pakistan/Afghanistan is working with government, the United Nations and other international relief groups to implement its response. Agency offices in several Pakistani cities are organizing relief efforts, and Church World Service teams are assessing needs in Pakistan and affected regions of Afghanistan.

“Long-term response may focus around Mansehra and Murree, communities north of Islamabad, where CWS has programs and good community connections,” Derr said. “We¹re looking at assisting 15,000 affected families with food and non-food items.” In Mansehra, 70 percent of the homes were reported destroyed, according to the agency.

Donations to the United Methodist relief effort can be marked for “UMCOR Advance #232000, Pakistan Earthquake,” and placed in church offering plates or sent to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, N.Y. 10087-9068. Contributions also can be made by phone at (800) 554-8583. If funds intended for recovery in a specific region, that should be noted. More information is available at

*Information for this report was provided by Church World Service and the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470; Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759; or

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