|Faith groups work toward relief in Myanmar|
A survivor sits in a makeshift shelter after Cylcone Nargis devastated Myanmar's coast on May 3. A UMNS photo courtesy of DCA-ACT International.
May 13, 2008 | NEW YORK (UMNS)
As aid trickles in to cyclone survivors in Myanmar, United Methodists and other faith-based groups are cooperating on relief efforts.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief is working with partners in the Action by Churches Together network, including Church World Service. Local partners have distributed water purification tablets, food and materials for shelter reconstruction, according to the Rev. Sam Dixon, UMCOR’s top executive.
About 1.5 million people are thought to be at risk following the May 3 cyclone in the Southeast Asian nation, formerly known as Burma. The Myanmar government now puts the official death toll at 34,273, but the United Nations believes that 62,000 to 100,000 may have died.
Government restrictions in Myanmar have hampered efforts by other nations and relief organizations to rush aid to the cyclone survivors. The military has ruled the country since 1962.
"The United Methodist Committee on Relief is persistently pursuing all avenues to provide relief in Myanmar," Dixon said. "The faith-based disaster response community is working closely together to bring relief to those suffering following Cyclone Nargis, and it’s working."
He added that recovery from the cyclone––the worst to hit the region since 1991––will require both immediate and long-term response.
ACT has established a rapid-support team in Yangon and Bangkok, according to John Nduna, international director. The team is assisting with coordination and communication for ACT members and supporting local organizations.
“The United Methodist Committee on Relief is persistently pursuing all avenues to provide relief in Myanmar.” –The Rev. Sam DixonA preliminary response in the coming days aims to assist at least 10,000 families through water, shelter and cash for work programs, he said.
Frustration at pace of relief
During a May 12 press conference in New York, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed "immense frustration" with the pace of cyclone relief efforts. Citing the risk of an outbreak of infectious disease, he called upon Myanmar’s government to prevent the disaster from becoming even more serious.
An ACT member-supported local organization reported that in the Irwaddy delta region, "many townships are totally destroyed with much loss of life and infrastructure. Electricity supplies are cut off, while diesel, natural gas and petrol are unavailable."
An ACT member representative expressed shock at the overwhelming devastation in the delta region. "During the three hours we sailed in the delta, I saw around 30 bodies including children," said the representative, adding that they also witnessed two mass burials.
"Just next to the corpses, women are standing, washing clothes in the river and fetching water," the representative reported, expressing concern about cholera and other waterborne diseases.
ACT members are concerned about food shortages, increasing food costs and the fear that many communities might miss the next planting season. They are coordinating efforts with the U.N. World Food Program. Sixty to 70 percent of Myanmar’s rice production is grown in areas affected by the cyclone.
The World Food Program estimates that the amount of food assistance allowed into the country so far is less than one-tenth of what is needed, according to a U.N. report.
Dixon said financial gifts will allow UMCOR to respond immediately and generously when the appropriate structures are in place to provide further assistance.
Donations to UMCOR Advance No. 3019674, Myanmar emergency, can be made online at www.givetomission.org. Checks also can be dropped in church offering plates or mailed directly to UMCOR, PO Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068. Write the Advance number and name on the memo line of the check. Credit card donations are accepted by phone at (800) 554-8583.
*UMCOR and ACT contributed to this report.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or email@example.com.
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