By Michelle Scott
United Methodist News Service
NEW YORK -The United Methodist Committee on Relief is coordinating medicines and medical supplies being provided through U.S. government-sponsored emergency airlifts to the conflict zone in the former Soviet republic of Georgia.
The South Caucasus nation has been fighting with Russia over the contested region of South Ossetia since Aug. 7. A cease-fire agreement, reached on Aug. 12 and brokered by France, apparently was not holding the next day, according to news reports.
As a member of the United Nations Health and Nutrition Coordination group, UMCOR Georgia is heavily involved in organizing and distributing supplies. UMCOR also is providing health kits to displaced people and assisting local hospitals by distributing medical supplies housed in its Tbilisi warehouse.
South Ossetia is a long-conflicted region along Georgia's border with Russia. While UMCOR has no current projects in South Ossetia, UMCOR's agriculture program operates in the province of Shida Kartli along the southern border of South Ossetia.
The World Council of Churches and Conference of European Churches issued a statement calling for prayers and assistance for those affected by the conflict in the Caucasus. The statement affirmed the interventions of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Georgian Orthodox Church and the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia, all of which have called for a cease-fire, a negotiated solution to the conflict and urgent relief for those affected.
George Gedevanishvili, head of office for UMCOR Georgia, is working with agency staff to provide assistance while also keeping personnel safe. Some of UMCOR's operations near the conflict zone have been halted, while work continues in areas unaffected by the violence.
"Our team was profoundly disturbed by the escalating crisis and the impact on the civilian population," said Thomas Dwyer, UMCOR's director of operations for its non-governmental organization, about the changeable environment in Georgia. "Responding to immediate needs in the first days of an emergency such as this requires a great deal of flexibility."
UMCOR's staff in Georgia is actively engaged in these activities, which include addressing immediate localized needs as well as conducting comprehensive assessments to map out a broader response in the days ahead.
"Our current hope is for the cessation of hostilities to be permanent to allow for addressing the emergent civilian needs," Dwyer said.
UMCOR staff at the New York headquarters has been in close contact with the office in Tbilisi to provide support and assistance in response to the conflict.
The agency began its humanitarian operations in Georgia in 1993 to address the basic health needs of women and children. Since then, UMCOR has added agriculture and reconstruction to its work throughout the country.
Donations to support UMCOR's work in Georgia, including its response to the conflict, can be made by giving to Georgia Emergency, UMCOR Advance #250305. Checks can be mailed to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. Write the Advance number and name on the memo line of the check. Online donations can be made at http://secure.gbgm-umc.org/donations/advance/donate.cfm?code=250305&id=3018670