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In Chicago one of our favorite pastimes is complaining about the...

In Chicago one of our favorite pastimes is complaining about the weather. Last week we certainly had justification for it. Rolls of soggy carpeting dotted the ends of driveways and waited for garbage collection, telling a silent story of widespread property loss.

Luckily, in the 38 Illinois counties that Governor Quinn declared disaster areas, federal funds will help people recover from these losses. For some, the coverage will come with no fuss. Others may run into red tape. But in the end, federal disaster funds guarantee everyone who lost something the hope for moving on with normal life.

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This assurance is rare globally, even in what we think of as developed countries. Thousands of people around the world experience natural disasters annually.

This year alone there have been over 500 earthquakes: one in Mexico, several in Peru, a mild one in Costa Rica, and loss of life in Iran, Pakistan and China. And we all remember the recent major earthquakes from Haiti, Japan, and Chile.

Many of the victims of these natural disasters never get back to a point that they can consider normal. On August 15, 2007, an 8.0 strength earthquake struck in Peru. The small town I was visiting at the time, Guadalupe, was 95% destroyed. In the days and weeks following, governments pledged to help the victims. Assistance flowed in from all over the world. Food, money, and tents we're sent to the area.

It is the tents that I am particularly interested in. They are perhaps twenty square feet in area, white canvas walls and roofs supported by metal rods. In the aftermath of the disaster these tents, with US Aid logos plastered on their walls, we're life-savers and we're greatly appreciated. Their necessity at the time was clear. The towns structures, mostly made from adobe bricks, had collapsed easily under the force of the earthquake. The month of August falls during Peruvian winter, so nighttime temperatures in the desert climate of Ica/Guadalupe descended to the fifties. The heavy canvas of the tents kept away cold winds well enough to make living in them tolerable.

On a 2010 visit to the area I was shocked to see that about a third of the town of Guadalupe was still living in US Aid tents. My husbands nephew wanted to give me an idea of what life was like for his aunt and gave me a tour of her house. The front room was being used as the bedroom. It had not been structurally damaged in the earthquake. The room in the middle of the house had been destroyed when the adjoining houses second and third floors fell onto it. The rubble was gone, and in it's place was a canvas tent. Her sofa and a couple of chairs made up the living area under the tent. The final room, made of brick, was the kitchen and bathroom area, a three wall-room open to the back yard.

My tour was sobering. The nephew was visibly upset. His aunt, the occupant of this jumble of rooms, cried often. The well-intentioned, temporary tent was chilly on cold desert nights, and wind blowing the canvas kept her awake. So she chose to sleep in her front room. I checked with her sister last week, and her situation has not changed.

Relief efforts of international aid organizations funded by ordinary Americans are valuable and necessary in the immediate aftermaths of all kinds of disasters. But frequently provide only an emergency tourniquet for the gaping wound. Sometimes the local governments are unable to heal the wound properly and the tourniquet remains, choking off life to what had been a salvageable limb. So life goes on at a new, substandard normal for the survivors.

A few organizations continue and extend the triage months and years after the rest of us have gone. Build Change is one such valuable sustainable earthquake relief organization. It not only builds earthquake-resistant structures, also it also educates the people in these areas to do the same. They have not been to Peru, unfortunately, and if they or someone like them do not go, even six years after the fact, the dismal situation that many find themselves in will continue. So if you feel inclined to donate after a major disaster, check out organizations like Build Change who will do so much good for long periods after the fact.

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Posted in Care and counselling Post Date 02/21/2017


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