People in the United States still seeking to help victims of a destructive typhoon in the Philippines should turn to prayer and advocacy for the environment. That's what one first responder in the affected area told Matt Fehse, an intern with Global Ministries – the shared global ministry between the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) – who is in the area helping with disaster recovery.
"I asked the program coordinator if there was anything else American churches could do and she responded with 'Prayer,'" said Fehse, who sent Global Ministries an update of what he has witnessed on the ground. "She said the disasters the Philippines are facing are symptoms to a larger problem and encourages Christians to advocate for the protection of the environment, to stop the wholesale mining industry, and the unchecked logging – particularly [on the island of] Leyte, which has caused landslides and flooding."
Fehse is serving with the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), one of the UCC's partners in the area, as the UCCP works with communities and congregations to rebuild after the disaster.
The UCC is assisting the recovery effort, raising money to support the victims of the typhoon that tore through the Philippines. After immediately sending initial aid from One Great Hour of Sharing, the UCC's Disaster Ministries issued a $250,000 appeal for emergency relief soon after the devastating super storm, and generous donations followed. In the ten days since the appeal went out Nov. 11, people across the life of UCC have responded. As of Thursday evening, Nov. 21, $154,349 has been donated online, with an additional $20,191 sent to denomination offices, for a grand total of nearly $175,000.
When Typhoon Haiyan ripped across Philippines on Friday, Nov. 8, it was the most powerful storm ever to make landfall. Fehse said he's been told climate change, the lack of care and concern for the environment caused these type of storms to grow stronger and more destructive.
That message was echoed by a group of UCC pastors and members in Ashland, Ore. Hannah Sohl, a member of Ashland United Church of Christ who works with a volunteer advocacy group called Rogue Climate, helped organize a one-day fast on Wednesday, Nov. 20. She said that more than 20 people participated in the fast, which was a demonstration of solidarity for Nadarev (Yeb) Sano, the Philippines delegate at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Warsaw, Poland. Sano is fasting for the duration of the conference (Nov. 11-22) as a call for action to reduce global warming.
"Typhoon Haiyan reminds us that the drastic disruption of our climate is something that affects us all, from the Rogue Valley, to the rest of the country, to people abroad," Sohl said. "And we need to act now if we are going to reduce the impact on our jobs and our quality of life."
The Rev. Caren Caldwell of the Medford Congregational UCC, in Medford, Ore., was one of the many faith leaders that will be participating in the fast on Wednesday. "Fasting from greenhouse gas emissions is the only way to slow climate change and save the earth's population from great suffering akin to the destruction and loss of life caused by Superstorm Sandy and Typhoon Haiyan.
In the Philippines, getting relief goods to places near [the provinces of] Samar and Leyte has been challenging because of a fuel shortage. The cost of fuel has spiked to $16.50 a gallon and businesses are selling fuel a liter at a time, so relief delivery trucks cannot fill up their gasoline tanks to reach some areas by vehicle. Fehse said other goods are being hoarded by sellers to artificially drive up prices.
Another issue that has complicated relief efforts is an influx of "disaster tourists," which Fehse describes as people "traveling to the affected areas to take pictures and do amateur reporting," he said. "This has caused commercial flights to be completely full, making it difficult for aid workers to get there on time and in a single group. The tourists then consume the scarce resources available in a given area and clog up communication lines — cell towers and internet — and internet is only available at Tacloban airport."
The UCC has sent $50,000 in grants, funded by One Great Hour of Sharing, to the ACT Alliance, the UCCP and Church World Service to assist relief efforts. The money will fund early response and initial recovery work to provide supplies, emergency shelter items, drinking water and money – items desperately needed as people fight to stay alive.
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