- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 30, 2004

Local relief workers and nonprofits say they expect recovery efforts in southern and Southeast Asia to last months — even years — in the aftermath of the tsunami disaster.

Humanitarian groups in the Washington area urged potential donors not to divert their attention from the dire needs of tsunami survivors and said money is the best thing people can give.

“We are just now in the very beginning of relief,” said Stuart Willcuts, chief executive officer of Air Serv International, a nonprofit group based in Warrenton, Va. “The world must be their neighbor. Their recovery will be long in coming. We must walk with them down this road because it will be months.”

Air Serv International provides planes and runs relief flights to move response teams around the affected region. Mr. Willcuts said it costs $1,000 per hour to man one aircraft.

Mr. Willcuts said residents “must not succumb to donor fatigue.”

Lutheran World Relief, based in Baltimore, plans to stay in the area for several years.

Spokeswoman Kathryn Wolford said the group already has raised $50,000 and has a goal of $5 million for the long-term effort to construct shelters and rebuild homes.

“When you are working with the poorest of the poor, it is going to take three to five years to help people,” she said. “We want to leave them with a better livelihood and a stronger home than they had before.”

The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) International in Silver Spring is asking people to donate money instead of clothes or food.

“We don’t want churches and schools collecting items because it’s 12,000 miles away and it would cost a fortune to ship it,” said spokesman Jim Lanning. “It doesn’t make any sense to be shipping anything right now from here.”

Mr. Lanning said crews can buy blankets and medicine on the ground in southern and Southeast Asia and that those purchases can help the local economy there.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC), which helps refugees in countries torn with conflict or ethnic tension, has refocused to help those displaced by Sunday’s tsunami. The organization had a program in Aceh, on the tip of the island of Sumatra, the closest land mass to the epicenter of a massive earthquake that spawned the killer tidal waves.

Mark Collins of IRC said all but two of the group’s 21 workers based there have been accounted for. He said monetary donations will help workers set up sites with clean drinking water, one of the most critical needs.

“We can take funds given on our Web site and wire them in a matter of minutes so people can buy chlorination supplies, in the time it would take people here to get to the post office to mail clothes,” Mr. Collins said. “Making a donation is the fastest, most effective thing you can do.”

Paul Montacute of Baptist World Aid in Falls Church agreed. “We’re asking people for money and money only,” he said.

The organization, part of Baptist World Alliance, has been in touch with Christian leaders to find out what help is most needed.

“This isn’t just a short-term relief operation. This will be a long-term caring and rebuilding operation for so many people,” he said.

On Wednesday dozens of people came to sign a condolence book for earthquake and flood victims at the Indonesian Embassy in Northwest.

“I came down to show concern, to let everyone know that U.S. citizens care,” said Ernest Brackton, 29, an accountant from Arlington.

Many visitors such as Philip C. Wilcox Jr. had a personal connection to the devastated region.

“I served in Indonesia from 1972 to 1976 and have very warm feelings towards the people and place. I feel a sense of shock and loss for all those people,” said Mr. Wilcox, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace.

Denise Jones, 43, said news reports persuaded her to visit the embassy.

“I’ve never seen a human tragedy of this magnitude,” she said. “At times like this I feel like we’re all part of the human race and I wanted to do something to help.”

Many visitors gave money as well as their signature.

“I’m not a rich man, but I gave $20,” said Habib Abbasi, a 25-year-old limousine driver from Falls Church. “If everyone gave $15 or $20, it would go a long way.”

Dr. Sinnarajah Raguraj of Bel Air and 20 other doctors from around the United States will soon leave for a three-week trip to Sri Lanka. His aid group has donated $50,000 to a grass-roots health organization there.

The doctors hope to take along medical supplies, including blood-pressure machines, antibiotics, syringes, intravenous fluids, anti-diarrheal medicine and vaccines to prevent cholera and other communicable diseases.

Lt. Mark Stone of the Fairfax County Urban Search and Rescue said his team is “ready, willing and able” to go if called but so far they have not been contacted. Lt. Stone says they are not even in a “stand-by” mode to be deployed.

Melissa Brosk contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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