HOTLINE - week of February 21, 2011

CWS urges Congress to oppose cuts to global assistance; farmers in Brazil struggle to survive following severe flooding and landslides; CWS continues tsunami-related assistance in Indonesia's Mentawai Islands; Pre-election peace training in Uganda

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Waldeli de Andrade
Lettuce farmer Waldeli de Andrade shows the last of his ruined crop after the flood.  CWS is working in partnership to help farmers like Waldeli.
Photo: ACT/Gustavo Bonato

Global assistance

Church World Service voiced grave concern this past week over proposed budget cuts under deliberation in the House of Representatives that "threaten to eviscerate" U.S. funding for humanitarian and poverty-focused global assistance.  Those cuts would be the deepest to the international affairs budget since the end of World War II.

In the midst of a looming global food crisis, the cuts would eliminate U.S. funding for the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP), a program designed to address the under-funding of agriculture and food security strategic plans already under development.

"The minimal savings that would result... are not worth the loss of life [or the increase in] human suffering," said CWS Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer John L. McCullough in a letter delivered to key House leaders.  Furthermore, such cuts would have the "destabilizing impact of discontinuing programs that provide emergency health, safe shelter, and clean water for millions of survivors of conflicts, human rights abuses, and natural disasters worldwide."

McCullough added that the "unprecedented and dangerous cuts will not appreciably help solve U.S. fiscal problems," noting that humanitarian and poverty-focused foreign assistance make up less than half of 1 percent of the federal budget.

CWS urged the House to oppose the cuts and to appropriate funding for foreign assistance at the levels President Obama has requested for 2011.

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A little more than a month ago, Brazil’s worst natural disaster in more than 35 years claimed more than 840 lives – with 540 persons still missing.  Relief workers estimate the total of dead and missing could exceed 2,000 people.

The flooding and landslides also left thousands of small farmers landless in the mountainous region of Rio de Janeiro.  Waldeli de Andrade, 43, and Alessandro Silva de Oliveira, 24, are two of the hundreds of small farmers in rural Teresópolis facing serious difficulties.  With nowhere to plant and nothing to sell, Andrade doesn’t know what’s next.  "The government has promised help but so far, we have received no support," he says.  Many farmers in Teresópolis lack the legal paperwork to prove they are farmers, making them ineligible for government assistance.

In Fazenda Alpina, another Teresópolis district, farmers face a different difficulty.  In the 1990s, the federal government settled a few dozen families in a remote, hilly area where rocky slopes made for poor farming.  Some of them – like Mozart Gomes de Sá and his brother Adão – began organic farming, hoping for better market prices.

During the flooding, Mozart saved his family, but lost at least 40 friends – and his livelihood.  "We cannot plant," he says, and waiting for government assistance "is pointless."

CWS and other ACT Alliance members are working to support families in this rural mountainous region, as well as in some poor urban communities.

Mozart’s brother Adão still has hope: "I will plant again," he says.

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In the three months since the devastating earthquake and tsunami in the remote Mentawai Islands, CWS and other ACT Alliance Indonesian members have provided life-saving relief and recovery assistance.  The government’s national disaster taskforce says the tsunami claimed more than 500 lives – and at least 11,400 people are still out of their homes.

Already delivered: Food supplies for babies, clean water and sanitation facilities, transitional shelter, clothing, medicines, baby care items, sanitary supplies, blankets, and medical teams.  Recovery efforts are scheduled to continue through October of this year.

CWS continues to work in the three worst hit areas, focusing on water, sanitation and transitional shelters.  In the South and North Pagai Islands, CWS has been distributing nearly 60,000 liters of water a day at 11 relocation sites, along with axes, machetes, waterproof tarpaulins, and other relief items to assist the communities in collecting rain water.  In Sikakap, CWS has also taken over the management of World Food Program’s tent, which stores recovery materials for the government and non-governmental organizations.  CWS will also start building sanitation facilities and transitional shelters for displaced families.

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As voters in Uganda prepare for a contentious general election, CWS has worked extensively to provide community leaders with training in peace building and ways to resolve conflicts without violence.  Read more...

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