Relief Effort
By Elise Ackerman

As Mohammad Salim is overcome by emotions, Samina Sundas takes the podiumand

Mohammed Shaffi had steeled himself to speak about the earthquake that destroyed his home village in Kashmir last month. But when he tried to take the podium Thursday morning at the First Presbyterian Church in Palo Alto, he broke into sobs.
``Fifty-two members of my family have died,'' he said in a choked voice. The 45-year-old Saratoga grocery store owner covered his face with his hands.
Samina Sundas, executive director of American Muslim Voice, a Newark-based advocacy group, had brought Shaffi to the church, along with several dozen leaders of various religious organizations and peace groups, to combat the ``compassion fatigue'' that has undercut relief efforts in South Asia just as winter sets in.
``The first wave of people who died, we couldn't do anything,'' Sundas said. ``But we could save the second wave of people who are going to die because we cannot provide them with food, shelter, water, emergency needs.''
As of Wednesday, the United Nations said donors have given less than 25 percent of the $550 million needed for relief efforts in Pakistan and India. Earlier this year, donors gave $871 million in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami.
The United States initially pledged $50 million in earthquake relief. By comparison, American Muslim organizations pledged $10 million and Muslim countries pledged more than $1 billion to help the victims of Katrina.
According to the United Nations News Service, the current death toll from the quake is 73,000. Between 3.2 million and 3.5 million people are believed to need medical care.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has listed shelter as ``the overriding priority'' for earthquake victims and estimated an urgent need for 100,000 to 200,000 tents.
Kirsten Moller, the executive director of Global Exchange in San Francisco, noted that a $100 donation can buy one tent. ``That's not that much for us to be able to ask our friends and our neighbors, our congregations, our organizations, to give,'' she said.
Palo Alto Mayor Jim Burch said it was ``an obscenity'' that the federal government is spending billions of dollars on the war in Iraq ``when those resources could be redirected.''
``Then I go to NASA and I see we are planning to go to Mars, to see if there is water there, and I say, why don't you spend your time providing clean, drinkable water for the people who are here?'' Burch said.
Shaffi said he asked a brother who is living in Karachi to go to their village in the Pakistan-administered region of Kashmir. ``He said everything is gone,'' Shaffi recalled. The family is ``sitting on the ground,'' Shaffi said. ``The snow is coming. The rain is there.''
During the past few days, Shaffi said, four of his nieces and nephews have died, bringing the family death toll to 52.
Sundas said she asked other local Pakistanis to speak, but they are too grief-stricken.
Sundas called on Americans to participate in a ``global week of giving'' from Nov. 21 to 27. (Courtesy Mercury News)


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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