Thursday, May 8, 2008

Myanmar Suffers While the World Wants to Help

I have to take a break from this voyage of peace resources during this week of Catholic Prayers for Peace. I have to take a break because I live in Fort Wayne. Fort Wayne or the Summit City has the largest Burmese population in the world outside of Burma. We are a major refugee center and Catholic Carities are busy working with refugees from around the world. However, right now, this week, I am focused on the Burmese.

The reason is obvious. On May 03 Myanmar (Burma) was struck by Cyclone Nargis. Between the winds and the surge the devastation is hard to believe. There are over 100,000 dead, possibly twice that. Live stock is gone. Over a million people are homeless.

Myanmar is a closed society. We remember how the ruling junta dealt with the Buddhist monks who marched for democracy. However, this disaster is so extensive that the government is beginning to allow relief workers and supplies in. For sure they are being cautious. They are accepting material from China, Thailand, and India. They may accept supplies from the United States but they will not allow U.S. planes on their soil or in their airspace.

The United Nations was initially critical of the reluctance to allow outside agencies into Myanmar to assist. That situation is beginning to change. The most critical need is for food, medicines, shelter and water. United Nations planes have been delivering supplies from the World Food Program. These include tents, high energy biscuits, and medical supplies.

The damage is not just an acute emergency. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization is estimating that the cyclone did more damage to fishing ad farming than the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004.

The United States Depts. of Defense and State are working to find creative ways of getting U.S. supplies to Burma. This includes having stocks of supplies off shore and allowing others to transport the food.

I have been critical of the Chinese government. I have criticized them for their unwillingness to use their influence in Sudan to stop the genocide. I have criticized the Chinese for not pressuring the Burmese junta to stop beating protesting monks and I have criticized China for its treatment of Tibet. Well, this is an opportunity for China to show the world it is truly a world power, a humanitarian leader and not just collectivistic-capitalist country pretending to be communist. They need to step up and pressure their ally Burma to open up their borders and accept help from whoever is willing to give it. There is too much suffering for business as usual.

There has been some assistance besides the United Nations. The International Red Cross has been able to assist some individuals and to provide some supplies. There are 27,000 Red Cross volunteers from Burma but the International Red cross would like to also provide volunteers for such a massive undertaking.

Public health is an additional concern. The bodies of dead humans and animals are floating in water sources, bodies are decomposing and chaos is preventing the cleanup process to progress. The result is that the fear of malaria and cholera are very real.

Burma is a predominately Buddhist nation. There are 700,000 Catholics and unfortunately the diocese has been severely damaged. Still, the Burmese Catholic Church has been active in collecting needed relief materials and distributing them. Catholic Relief Services has also taken a lead role in collecting mateirals and resources. Additionally, Christian Aid Today has made a worldwide appeal for financial, material and human resources.

So, send Burma you prayers and your money. Just as after the Indian Ocean Tsunami disaster and after Katrina hit the Gulf States, this to will require a long term commitment.

Burma Cyclone

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