As we head into the final weekend in November, I am writing as Executive Director of the Sorrento Centre to provide an operational and financial update on disaster relief work at our Centre and in our region. We will provide more reports and accounting in the coming days.
First of all, a big thank you to many donors who answered our emergency appeal over the past few days. We are still calculating the final amount. Mail delivery, amongst many other services, has suffered during the recent mudslides, flooding and highway closures. We know that there are more funds on the way, and we are incredibly grateful for the response to date – more than $30,000 so far. All these funds have been designated for disaster relief – short-term assistance in the form of food and shelter, and longer-term aid for recovery.
We do expect that the government will also step up with much-needed support, and we will be grateful when that arrives. Four months ago, during the worst of the wildfires, we sheltered people on our campus, and provided food. We are still waiting for promised funding from the provincial government for that disaster relief work.
When we issued our emergency appeal less than two weeks ago, the mudslides and flooding were devastating entire communities. We reached out to emergency services and our neighbours with the offer of shelter and food. An estimated 500 evacuees from Merritt and other communities came into our region, and many more in nearby Kamloops. Some needed shelter, and others needed food. While some evacuees have been able to return to their homes in the last few days, others are still waiting.
The wash-out of every transportation route from the interior to the lower mainland dramatically affected our food supply. For almost a week after the initial devastation, we did not receive a single delivery. In addition to mounting requests from evacuees, our emergency meal program which we launched in the earliest days of the pandemic, has provided about 70,000 meals to people who are hungry in our region.
Thankfully, the first supply truck to reach us in a week had a partial shipment, but no milk or certain other basics. By week two, the supply was reaching more normal levels, but the price of food has skyrocketed. Almost everyone has experienced the growing cost of food and fuel, which is often blamed on “supply chain issues”. Multiply that by the specific disruptions caused by the recent mudslides and flooding, and the costs are dramatically increasing.
There are lingering and local impacts of the terrible mudslides and flooding. In late November, a rockslide on the TransCanada Highway just west of Sorrento triggered by recent weather conditions closed the road for a short period. And just a couple of days ago, all the households in Sorrento faced a boil water advisory. The excessive precipitation has scoured the local watershed and increased the turbidity of the water – overwhelming the local water treatment system. Even our own water treatment system on campus failed in the face of contaminants washed into Newsome Creek, and into the Shuswap, which feeds our local water system.
In addition, there are weather alerts warning of bad weather this weekend and into next week that could trigger more catastrophic events and threaten people and communities.
As we continue to assess the need, and gratefully acknowledge the wonderful response from so many donors, we have established three priorities for the disaster relief efforts:
First, to continue to be available to provide a warm and welcoming shelter and tasty and nutritious food, as we are able to do so.
Second, to work with local communities to identify recovery efforts. We have reached out to long-established groups with deep expertise as we continue to discern the needs and our best response.
Third, to build a small working reserve for the next disaster. The recent mudslides and flooding are the second time in four months that our neighbours have faced devastating challenges caused by the Anthropocene – human-induced climate change. We want to be ready to help and comfort our neighbours as required in the coming times.
So, stay tuned for more stories and numbers as we move through the current crisis.
Finally, a word about the moral urgency of action in the face of the current and future environmental and social crises. The Sorrento Centre was formed in 1963 by a group of visionary Anglicans. We share, along with every other faith tradition, a commitment to express our love for our neighbours in practical and tangible ways – like food and shelter. We also understand that humans have become profoundly alienated from Mother Nature, and that is one source of our current crises.
We know that food for people who are hungry, and shelter for those without housing, is fundamentally important. We know that joint efforts are needed to work towards a world without hunger, and one without increasingly ferocious climate crises that take lives and wreak havoc on communities.
The Sorrento Centre has events and activities planned over the next year to engage in many aspects of the climate crisis. We are committed to continued deep engagement with our neighbours. We are working in partnership with groups locally and nationally on climate justice. Look to our website and our newsletter for more information.
- Michael Shapcott, Executive Director