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So Soon after Haiti, Chile Earthquake Tests Aid Groups

Jeremy Reynalds | ASSIST News Service | Tuesday, March 2, 2010

So Soon after Haiti, Chile Earthquake Tests Aid Groups

March 3, 2010

LOS ANGELES (ANS) -- Disaster relief officials are faced with a challenging task, trying to arrange assistance to victims of Chile's massive 8.8 earthquake while maintaining full-speed ahead operations in Haiti.

According to Los Angeles Times writer Shari Roan, that should not be a problem for large organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, which have the resources to send emergency responders and humanitarian aid to a number of hot spots. But the same may not be true for smaller groups whose focus is on long-term rebuilding efforts.

"Organizations like ours are able to coordinate on multiple disasters," Red Cross spokesman Eric Porterfield told the LA Times. He gave as an example the cyclone in Myanmar and the earthquake in China's Sichuan province in May 2008.

In the six weeks since a magnitude 7.0 quake devastated Haiti, the LA Times reported he said, the Red Cross has raised $322 million for its efforts there. A separate emergency fund could be directed for Chile, Porterfield added.

The medical relief group "Doctors Without Borders" already has dispatched a team to Chile. That organization too is heavily involved in its mission in Haiti, "but that doesn't mean we won't be able to respond to another natural disaster," the Los Angeles Times reported spokeswoman Emily Linendoll said.

With that in mind, the LA Times said, Chile's immediate needs after the quake are likely to be met.

But this month, the U.S. Agency for International Development had alerted some relief groups that government funding for foreign disaster assistance could be affected by the cost of operations in Haiti.

"It's going to be hard," said Farshad Rastegar, head of Relief International, a Los Angeles-based humanitarian agency.

The Times said he added, "A lot of resources have been devoted to Haiti, and there has been a shrinkage of the capacity to respond."

According to the LA Times, many smaller aid organizations like Relief International focus on long-term issues such as infrastructure rebuilding. They also address international crises that don't always make major headlines, such as the refugee problem in Pakistan. Those efforts have been affected by the huge amount of resources directed to Haiti, Rastegar said.

The LA Times said that another question weighing on relief organizations is whether Americans will open their checkbooks to help Chileans so soon after Haiti.

"The nongovernmental organizations have been tapped out and stretched by the tough economy," said Thomas Tighe, president and chief executive of Direct Relief International, a privately funded humanitarian health organization based in Goleta, Calif.

"I'm not sure if there was another Haiti next week that people could do the same," the LA Times said he added. "But our assumption is that if there is a precise need and compelling case, people will step up."

Copyright 2010 ASSIST News Service. Used by permisison.