Giving Thanks for Avoiding Disaster

Dear Friend,

A few weeks ago, the world witnessed a powerful storm approaching the coast of India. Cyclone Phailin packed winds well over 130 mph and torrential rain. That it was coming ashore in a country as densely populated as India, rife with poverty, seemed to portend a major disaster.

What happened? Well, it was bad. There was widespread destruction. Tens of thousands of homes were destroyed or significantly damaged. Electrical lines were knocked down. Roads were destroyed. Food and water were in short supply. But Catholic Relief Services was there to help, as we always are, thanks to your generosity.

But it could have been so much worse. Relatively few people died from the storm. We mourn the loss of every person who perished and know the anguish their deaths caused loved ones. But we also know that not that long ago the death toll from a storm like Phailin would have been 10—or even 100—times greater.

Residents of Ganjam district in India's Orissa State wait in line to receive shelter kits as part of an aid distribution provided by CRS.

Residents of Ganjam district in India’s Orissa State wait in line to receive shelter kits as part of an aid distribution provided by CRS. Photo by Kent Truog for CRS

Why was it different this time? Because India is not the same country it once was. This time, an evacuation moved almost 1 million people from the storm’s path, thanks to improved communication, transportation and organization. CRS was one of many groups that worked with the government of India to pull the evacuation off.

Such improvements did not occur by accident. Many people have been toiling for decades to help India’s poor. CRS first came to India in 1946, when we were still known as War Relief Services, to help people suffering through World War II. We have been there ever since. We have worked with the Church,  Caritas India and many other local partners and humanitarian organizations. We have seen and participated in the improvements that reduced the death toll from Cyclone Phailin. And we will be there to help the people of India rebuild the homes and communities devastated by this storm and to continue our efforts to fight widespread poverty.

Disaster risk reduction is what we call this work at CRS. We recognize that we cannot stop the storms and earthquakes and tsunamis, and even the famines that lead to disasters, but we can take steps to lessen their impact. Sometimes that means getting farmers to plant drought-resistant seeds. Sometimes it means prepositioning supplies so we can move quickly if a storm hits. Sometimes it means designing better buildings that can withstand high winds or a trembling earth. And sometimes it means making sure people have plans in place to get to safe areas in the event of a cyclone.

It’s the season for giving thanks—and after a storm like Phailin, we are thankful that it was not more destructive. But we must recognize how God made this happen—through the hard work of people in India and through the generosity of people like you. We give thanks to God for granting us the ingenuity, generosity, dedication and foresight that helps minimize damage when a storm strikes.

We hope that one day everyone, everywhere in the world, will be so well prepared that such storms will hardly be noticed, any more than when a powerful thunderstorm passes over your home. We hope that one day they will look out in awe at the power of nature and feel safe and secure.

May blessings overflow,

Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo
President & CEO

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