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January 29, 1999




At a meeting of the Emergency Aid Fund (FONDEM) chaired by the Organization of American States (OAS) Assistant Secretary General, Ambassador Christopher R. Thomas at the Organization’s headquarters in Washington on Friday morning, Colombia’s Ambassador Luis Alfredo Ramos asserted that food, safe drinking water, tents, and cash are the most urgent needs for the disaster relief in Colombia. The meeting was attended by ambassadors and representatives of OAS member countries as well as representatives of the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, PAHO, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture and IMF.

Speaking about the response to the disaster that had left at least 900 reported killed and 200,000 homeless following this week’s earthquake in the South American country, the OAS Assistant Secretary General said that "the response from the international community has been very encouraging". Ambassador Thomas added: "We are looking first to the question of immediate relief measures and long-term reconstruction measures. There has been tremendous outpouring of assistance". He said several countries announced "sizeable" contributions towards Colombia’s relief efforts. The OAS, meanwhile, will be coordinating with the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) on immediate and continuing relief.

The Colombian Ambassador told the meeting of the extent of the damage and the needs. After this morning’s meeting, he said: "It has been very productive…. Some response has come forth—in the form of economic aid, with equipment…." He said institutions like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), Inter-American Development Bank, and Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) had all been helping with reconstruction. He added that financial institutions had announced they would refinance the country’s debts. "This has been good news."

Stressing the need for help for the rebuilding process, the Colombian envoy also appealed for individual assistance in what he described as "this great catastrophe, a great calamity in which 200,000 people are without food and shelter."

Ambassador Ramos thanked all the governments, such as the United States and Canada, that had already made donations, and said his country was grateful for the expressions of solidarity from all countries and institutions. The Colombian Ambassador has been invited to address the Council at its next meeting.

Commenting on the meeting, the OAS Permanent Council Chairman, Ambassador Lionel Hurst of Antigua and Barbuda said "It is evident that there is solidarity with all of Colombia in this hour of need. Clearly our organization will respond in a very meaningful manner when it meets on Wednesday. The objective is to help Colombia recover as quickly as it possibly can." He elaborated on a disaster management proposal put forward by the United States, saying part of the intention is have a permanent warehouse and a Fund from which substantial monetary aid can be given to countries hit by disaster.

Sarah Horsey-Barr, Executive Director of the PADF, reported that the OAS web page, at www.oas.org, had information on how tax-deductible contributions could be made through the PADF. A bank account has also been established for cash donations, at any CitiBank branch throughout the USA: Account no. 6671-9569.

Checks can be sent to:

Pan American Development Foundation

OAS Building, 2600 16th Street, NW, 4th Floor

Washington, D.C. 20009.

Waterproof tents, non-perishable foods, drinking water, blankets and useful items can be sent, Monday to Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., to:

Organization of American States

17th Street and constitution Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20006

Ambassador Thomas also revealed that the Organization’s Permanent Council would be moving to consider a proposal advanced by the Ambassador of Guyana to establish a permanent OAS unit to immediately mobilize aid in future disaster situations.