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Baptist World Aid Appeals for South Asia Flood Relief Funds

Baptist World Aid (BWAid), the relief and development arm of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), has launched an appeal for funds to help bring relief to up to 20 million people affected by the South Asia floods.

Devastating floods have laid waste to much of northern India and Bangladesh in recent weeks, killing more than 2,000 people and displacing millions. BWAid – which has already sent initial grants of $5,000 to the Bengal Baptist Union and the Bengal Orissa Bihar Baptist Churches Association in India – is working with and through members of the BWA in programs to bring immediate relief.

“It is the poor who suffer so much in these situations,” said BWAid Director Paul Montacute. “The poor live on low lying ground or on land that is easily swept away as waters descend from the mountains.”

In Bangladesh, Baptist Aid, a ministry of the Bangladesh Baptist Church Fellowship, is already engaged in emergency relief operations. Six teams are at work providing flood victims with some dried food, but funds to purchase the food are already running out.

Nripen Baidya, the Bangladesh program director for Baptist Aid, has visited the most badly affected areas, providing support for their six relief teams.

“Children and old men and women are suffering the most,” Baidya said. “Baptist Aid would be happy to meet some [more] of the needs of these suffering people. We are in prayer. We also need the prayer support from our friends all over the world.”

BWAid said it was awaiting relief proposals from other Baptist groups in the region, so that assistance could be given to those in most need.

Baptist World Aid is just one of a number of Christian organizations providing relief to the region. Members of the worldwide coalition Action by Churches Together International are continuing to provide emergency aid.

“While the massive amount of water is slowly withdrawing, the damage and emergency need is showing its true colors,” said Arne Grieg Riisnæs with ACT member Norwegian Church Aid (NCA), speaking from Bangladesh.

The ACT coalition members have made the most vulnerable their aid priority, particularly those in out-of-the-way communities. Thousands of crops have been destroyed and homes washed away.

“When you lose everything it is very hard to recover,” said Sushant Agrawal, the director of Churches Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA). “People have lost their houses and belongings. The standing crops are gone. The flood has destroyed the total source of their livelihood.”

Many families are also struggling to cope amid food shortages.

“We are constantly hungry. I do not have enough food to feed my children,” said Shifa Begam from Jithkar, a village near the Harirampur-district in Bangladesh.

Despite the alarming need, there have been a number reports claiming that some villages had yet to receive any government aid or had just started receiving it, according to The Associated Press.

Pope Benedict XVI this past week called for a "generous" international response to aid the victims.

"I urge the church community to pray for the victims and support all initiatives of solidarity to lessen the suffering of so many people," he said during his traditional Sunday blessing.

Monsoon season rains usually hit South Asia from June to September. They are vital to farmers whose crops feed hundreds of millions of people, but also deadly. At least 2,135 people have died this year, double the number killed in 2006. About 600 people have died in the past two weeks.

On the Web: Information on how to give to Baptist World Aid at bwanet.org