Government leaders can tap the strengths of religions and their charities to make them even more effective at helping communities prepare and respond to disasters, the president of Latter-day Saint Charities told the G20 Interfaith Forum on Saturday morning.
“Faith is as essential as food,” Sister Sharon Eubank told an international audience of government and religious leaders in a summit originating from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
The size of the problems facing both governments and faith-based organizations is immense. The latest U.N. data shows 265 million people face acute food insecurity, almost double the need in 2019, she said.
“Without being too alarmist, if we do not address this crisis in a coordinated manner, it is projected to grow to be among the worst famines in human history,” said Sister Eubank, who also serves as first counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, headquartered in Salt Lake City.
She delivered practical and pragmatic suggestions for how policymakers can best leverage what religious groups do well to help and how those religious networks can succeed.
For example, policymakers should invite religious actors into decision-making about long-term preparations and set them loose building self-reliance in their communities.
“Better than any shiny national media campaign, more energetic than any United Nations development agenda, faith communities have the moral authority and grassroots reach to encourage these resilient preparedness habits that serve society on every level,” Sister Eubank said.
Participating remotely from her home in Utah, Sister Eubank spoke on the final day of the G20 Interfaith Forum to a session on the commitment of faith networks to disaster risk reduction.
Religious groups should nurture relationships before and between disasters, learn to be fast and creative and prepare long term, she said.
For example, she described how Latter-day Saint Charities and longstanding partners creatively responded to news early in the pandemic that dairy farmers were dumping millions of gallons of milk and farmers were plowing under potatoes and onions because closed schools and restaurants no longer were buying those goods.
While supply chains faltered and traditional community networks strained to respond, long-nurtured relationships managed to pivot and add new partners, Sister Eubank said. Latter-day Saint Charities bought potatoes and added them to additional weekly food shipments to food pantries across the United States. The partners dehydrated surplus milk and potatoes for other shipments.
“The old network was creative, the new partnerships were nimble, and it worked,” she said.
Sister Eubank was one of seven speakers during the penultimate session on the fifth and final day of the interfaith forum, which is designed to help religious communities and experts shape the Group of 20’s global policy agendas.
She said policymakers and faith leaders should be diverse and inclusive in consulting with each other and take time to build personal relationships. Government leaders also can work with religious networks to implement the Sendai Framework questions, which are designed to help communities plan their preparation.
For example, has the community “formed a council of local leaders that includes faith stakeholders to provide communication and coordination in a disaster?”
The session’s keynote speaker was His Holiness Catholicos Aram I Keshishian, the Armenian Apostolic Church’s patriarch of the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia in Lebanon.
Former U.N. Undersecretary General Thoraya Ahmed Obaid moderated the session, which included Baroness Emma Nicholson of Winterbourne of the U.K. House of Lords and Bandar M. H. Hajjar, president of the Islamic Development Bank Group.
Baroness Nicholson said most people of faith agree they are on earth to do good and emphasized the importance of multi-faith networks, mentioning the long partnership between Latter-day Saint Charities and AMAR, the relief network she founded in 1991.
Sister Eubank said the COVID-19 pandemic underscored the need for those relationships.
“The pandemic has revealed to us something that’s scarier than a global health pandemic, and it is the weaknesses that we have in mistrust, in misinformation, in not being able to cooperate together, and I believe this is a warning for us,” she said.
Other speakers included the president and CEO of World Vision International and representatives of Muslim Aid and the Saudi Arabian Human Rights Commission.
Sister Eubank said COVID-19 sparked the largest response by Latter-day Saint Charities in its 35-year history.
She also said a worldwide fast declared by the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints prompted donations that “facilitated hundreds of thousands of meals for hungry people.”
Sister Eubank referred to another address to the forum Wednesday by Elder David A. Bednar, a member of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He spoke about protect faith’s role in society.
“Protecting the powerful and unique role of faith in society is one of the main achievable goals of the G20 Interfaith Forum,” she said, “and I am glad to lend my voice to it and remain eager to hear the ongoing conversation.”