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IMB launching relief efforts for Bangladesh, Caribbean


DHAKA, Bangladesh (BP)–The good Samaritan found a bleeding man lying by the road and rescued him. But how would he rescue 75,000 hungry people clinging to the edges of a road with floodwaters lapping at their feet?
That question confronted Southern Baptist relief workers in mid-September as they drove — and rowed — through Bangladesh, a land drowned by two months of flooding.
On one 35-kilometer stretch between the towns of Gopalganj and Faridpur, “there was no dry ground at all except the shoulders of the road, where the people had built small bamboo structures,” said Bill Cashion, the International Mission Board’s human needs consultant. “They’re living on the side of the road with water licking at their heels. That scene is repeated hundreds of times across the country.”
With an estimated 20 million Bangladeshis facing serious threats from hunger and disease — and now thousands of people devastated by Hurricane Georges in the Caribbean — Southern Baptist mission leaders have issued an urgent appeal for relief gifts.
These two disasters have hit at a time when Southern Baptist relief funds on hand are inadequate to meet the needs, Cashion said. Ministries to victims of the Bangladesh flood and the Caribbean hurricane will stress the IMB’s general relief fund, which currently contains only $300,000.
The most extensive flooding in Bangladesh’s history has covered three quarters of the country since it began in July. The waters are finally receding, but they’re leaving behind vast, disease-ridden landscapes of rancid muck, contaminated wells, ruined croplands — and an estimated 30 million homeless people.
“The nation’s rice harvest has been lost, and the winter crop cannot be sown,” Cashion reported. “The government fears 1 million children could die in the next four months. Medicines are at very low levels. The floods have ravaged clean water supplies. At least 50,000 wells have been destroyed.”
To meet critical needs, the International Mission Board has authorized more than $600,000, and may send upwards of $1 million more later — if Southern Baptists help provide it. Much of the need in Bangladesh will be met from the World Hunger Fund, which has benefited from increased giving in recent months.
The initial allocation will fund: a month’s food for 100,000 people, millions of oral rehydration packets, seed distribution, medicine, blankets, 200 emergency tube wells, testing of hundreds of existing wells for contamination and installation of sanitary latrines.
The official death toll stood at 1,386 Sept. 24 — tiny for Bangladesh, where past floods and cyclones have swept away up to half a million people at a time. But this disaster could end up killing far more before it’s over.
By United Nations estimates, 20 million people face life-threatening risk from hunger and waterborne diseases in coming months if massive international aid doesn’t come quickly. Hundreds of thousands of people forced to drink polluted water already are suffering from diarrhea and dysentery. “This is a slowly developing disaster,” warned one U.N. official.
“I knew I was going to see a lot of devastation, but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw,” said Cashion, who surveyed hard-hit areas with IMB missionary R T Buckley and Mickey Caison of the North American Mission Board’s volunteer mobilization office.
In the town of Gopalganj, the survey team found 20 families sleeping on tables above knee-deep water at the local Baptist church. Most of them “had no food at all,” Cashion said. Another 70 people were huddling in a single mission-owned house that withstood the flooding.
An International Mission Board team left the United States Sept. 24 to assess the damage on Caribbean islands devastated by Hurricane Georges earlier that week. That team will return with recommendations for relief efforts on the islands.
The Southern Baptist aid effort in Bangladesh will focus first on relief, then rehabilitation. Food aid totaling $500,000 will feed about 1,000 families, or approximately 100,000 people, for a month in 16 districts where Baptists work. About $100,000 will pay for sinking 200 emergency tube wells to provide clean water and the digging of hundreds of sanitary latrines — a critical concern as floodwaters recede. Southern Baptists also have donated two water purifiers to the Bangladeshi government that will provide water for up to 30,000 people a day.
Caison is recruiting teams of volunteers from Baptist Men’s disaster relief units to go to Bangladesh, beginning in October, to test water sources for contamination and train Bangladeshis in testing. Up to 50,000 tube wells, including many sunk over the years by Southern Baptist workers, have been destroyed or contaminated.
“When you look at the need, this is far too small,” Cashion said of the plan. “But if Southern Baptists join others who are sending aid, we can help the people of Bangladesh escape a famine that will make Ethiopia, Sudan, North Korea and Somalia look tiny in comparison.”
Southern Baptists who want to contribute to the effort can send gifts designated for “general relief” to: Southern Baptist World Relief, Office of Finance, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230.

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  • Erich Bridges