By Elise Ackerman
As Mohammad Salim is overcome by emotions,
Samina Sundas takes the podiumand
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
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
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)