Blowing the roof off

Disaster | Myanmar's devastating cyclone may open a closed country to outsiders as never before

Issue: "Return of the Lion," May 17, 2008

A week after Cyclone Nargis hit the Irrawaddy delta in Myanmar, nearly 2,000 square miles of the hard-hit region are still under water. With U.S. officials estimating up to 100,000 dead and the delta's 6 million residents susceptible to disease and further devastation, outside relief will be a long-term essential-but controversial.

As of last week the military junta that rules Myanmar, also known as Burma, was blocking U.S. and other Western aid into the region.

"If this cloud has a silver lining, it is that the outside world is waking up to Burma. What kind of government is so brutal and awful it won't allow aid workers in?" said Jim Jacobson, president of Christian Freedom International. His group has worked in Myanmar for 10 years, largely among Karen refugees along the country's border with Thailand, and already has medical workers on the ground and expected to reach the delta region within days.

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Others face a maze of red tape and roadblocks to penetrating the government's isolationist policies and getting the kind of medical and other relief needed into the delta region, but following is a partial list of groups with emergency plans in place and accepting donations:
Baptist World Alliance
(703) 790-8980
405 North Washington St.
Falls Church, VA 22046

The Myanmar Baptist Convention, a member body of the BWA, is the single largest Baptist group in Asia, with a membership of over 1 million. In addition to a $50,000 pledge, BWAid is coordinating relief efforts with Baptists around the world. "We will be working with and through the very capable Myanmar Baptist Convention," said Paul Montacute, Director of BWAid.
Christian Freedom International
(800) 323-2273
P.O. Box 535
Front Royal, VA 22630

CFI already operates six clinics in Burma's Karen state. A dozen backpack medics carrying IVs, mosquito nets, antibiotics, and other drugs will be in the cyclone area by mid-May, and CFI hopes to transport additional supplies there.
Gospel for Asia
(800) 946-2742
1800 Golden Trail Ct.
Carrollton, TX 75010

A Gospel for Asia Bible college in Rangoon, the capital, is now a makeshift shelter for cyclone victims.

James Pinglay, teenage son of a GFA missionary, was at the school when the storm hit. Pinglay said the cyclone hit at about 2:30 a.m., May 3, and by daylight the full effect of the storm was obvious: homes destroyed, giant trees crashed through buildings. Pinglay said more than 80 people-along with 70 children from a nearby orphanage that was destroyed and Buddhist monks-made their way to the college campus as soon as the storm subsided, seeking assistance.

"The people in Burma live in clusters of small communities in simple bamboo structures," explained GFA president K.P. Yohannan. "I imagine that literally hundreds of these simple structures were just blown away. We are praying here in India and are asking Christians around the world to join us."
Samaritan's Purse
(828) 262-1980
P.O. Box 3000
Boone, NC 28607

Samaritan's Purse had a team of water specialists in Myanmar when the storm hit. In the days following such a massive disaster, contaminated water can spread cholera and other diseases, and they will focus on providing potable water supplies.
World Vision
(888) 511-6593
P.O. Box 9716, Dept. W
Federal Way, WA 98063-9716

The government of Myanmar invited World Vision to provide assistance in the form of zinc sheets, tents, tarpaulins, and medicine. Initially World Vision is the only agency coordinating with authorities for an airlift of emergency supplies into the country. World Vision assessment teams have been deployed to the hardest-hit areas to determine the most urgent needs. They are already providing clothing and blankets to households in the capital, along with rice and water. In Yangon (Rangoon), World Vision national director James Tumbuan said the city "is totally collapsed. All the roads were blocked with fallen trees. The way Yangon used to look, with its big trees, has been totally changed."


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