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UMCOR plans for Iraq relief assistance

4/9/2003 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (UMNS) - The United Methodist Committee on Relief is prepared to offer training and technical assistance to many of the church-based humanitarian efforts in Iraq, according to the Rev. Paul Dirdak.

Dirdak, who leads the agency, explained those plans when UMCOR directors gathered April 8 during the spring meeting of the agency's parent organization, the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

In surveying its international professional staff, he reported, "we have identified five technical competencies which we believe are of such a high quality that we think our partner agencies will want to make use of our skills." Such assistance would be provided at UMCOR's expense, he added.

Dirdak said the agency has made a commitment for a communications person with experience in war zones to be made available to the entire ecumenical relief community. Other skills UMCOR staff can offer include assessment of shelter, community economic development, food security, refugee camp management and youth development needs; help with temporary and permanent shelter construction; assistance with the procurement, storage and distribution of food; and advice on secure programs for returning civilians.

UMCOR plans to channel its own humanitarian response to Iraq through partner agencies there, such as the Middle East Council of Churches. That organization includes Presbyterian and Chaldean congregations that already have set up humanitarian programs in their communities.

Dirdak also reported a deepening relationship between UMCOR and Norwegian Church Aid, facilitated by the Rev. Tove Odland, a Board of Global Ministries director from Norway. He expects UMCOR will provide direct support to the Norwegian agency for its work in Iraq.

UMCOR will not open its own field office in Iraq, he said, in part because of the costs involved and the large number of other relief agencies expected to set up shop there. The United Methodist agency also has been busy establishing three other new field offices in the past year - in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Manhattan (in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks).

Both Dirdak and the Rev. Randy Day, chief executive of the Board of Global Ministries, expressed concern about the U.S. Department of Defense's interest in directing and overseeing humanitarian relief and post-war reconstruction in Iraq.

"UMCOR has been bold and forthright in insisting that humanitarian aid and reconstruction be under the United Nations," Day told board directors in his April 8 address. "It has joined other U.S. and international agencies in overtures to the Pentagon to separate clearly humanitarian work from military practice."

Dirdak explained that having uniformed and armed personnel participate in large-scale distribution of relief supplies or reconstruction efforts would blur the distinction between combatants and relief workers.

"Relief personnel rely upon their non-combatant neutrality for their safety and, in many places, safety is becoming perilously thin," he said. "Allowing soldiers to do what relief workers know far better how to do risks the lives of relief workers everywhere."

UMCOR is collecting funds to support relief work through its Iraq Emergency Advance No. 623225-4. Checks can be dropped in church collection plates or mailed directly to UMCOR at 475 Riverside Dr., Room 330, New York, NY 10115. Credit-card donations also can be made online at or by calling (800) 554-8583.

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