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No words can comprehend the horror and tragedy unleashed by the tsunamis that struck huge parts of South Asia on Sunday, December 26th. The scale of the calamity that took tens of thousands of lives is matched only by the human suffering and loss experienced by many thousands more who just barely survived. They now face the unimaginable task of identifying and burying the dead, rebuilding their lives and struggling to rebuild their communities.
--Bishop William S. Skylstad, USCCB President, December 29, 2004
President Bush will soon ask Congress for supplemental appropriations for Iraq, Afghanistan, and the victims of the tsunami in South Asia.
Shortly after the tsunami devastated Asian countries at the end of 2004, President Bush pledged $350million to aid the victims. The President did not ask Congress to provide emergency funds immediately,as he will draw the money from existing accounts in the fiscal year 2005 Foreign Operations and Defense budgets. The President is expected shortly to ask Congress to consider a supplemental spending bill for relief and reconstruction aid. The total U.S. contribution is expected to rise to $900million. Congress will also need to replenish the humanitarian and development accounts (International Disaster and Famine Assistance and the Department of Defense emergency fund) that were used for initial tsunami relief and which are relied upon to fund other priorities.
Additional assistance for tsunami victims will come in the form of a moratorium on debt payments for poor countries most affected, to free up their already strained resources for health care, sanitation, and reconstruction. The Paris Club of creditor nations offered to freeze debts until the World Bank and International Monetary Fund assess reconstruction and financing needs.
In addition, discussions have begun on potential trade preferences, allowing countries like Sri Lanka improved access to U.S. markets and greater opportunities for economic development through trade,not solely through aid.
Catholic Relief Services
The response by non-governmental sources has been truly remarkable. USCCB President Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane made an appeal to all U.S. bishops urging them to consider taking up a second collection in their dioceses to assist with relief efforts of Catholic Relief Services, the bishops' overseas relief and development agency. Catholic Relief Services exceeded its initial pledge of $25 million by raising$65.9 million (as of early February) for emergency needs as well as long-term reconstruction. It has ultimately committed to $80million over the next five to seven years. CRS immediately setup offices in the worst-hit areas and deployed additional personnel to aid with the emergency response. In partnership with other aid organizations, CRS is providing victims with clean water and temporary shelter, offering trauma counseling services, and airlifting and distributing resources that range from food and medication to soap and clothing. In addition to its immediate relief operations, CRS will direct funds toward long-term programming, such as increasing governments 'capacities to cope with disasters, and rebuilding roads, schools, clinics, and houses.
We are heartened by the generous response to the tsunami disaster and will urge the administration and Congress to provide essential aid to the victims for recovery and reconstruction. As the same time, the USCCB will continue to advocate for humanitarian and development aid for poor and conflict ridden countries in other parts of the world, particularly in Africa and Latin America. USCCB will urge that aid to the tsunami victims not come at the expense of funding for other long-standing needs.
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