Junta hampers aid-agency efforts in Burma

15 May 2008

by Ed Beavan

Long wait: cyclone survivors in the Irrawaddy delta queue for food HTEIN WIN/TEARFUND

Long wait: cyclone survivors in the Irrawaddy delta queue for food HTEIN WIN/TEARFUND

ONLY about ten per cent of the supplies that are needed by survivors of the Burma cyclone are reaching the most affected areas, a British aid agency said this week.

Judith Melby of Christian Aid said that just a fraction of the food and emergency supplies was getting through, and the relief operation was being hampered by the reluctance of the military junta to allow foreign relief-workers into the country.

She said one of Christian Aid’s partners in Burma was distributing rice, oil, and other supplies to 68,000 people in 58 relief camps in the Irrawaddy delta. “We have to work within the situation as it is: aid is not arriving in the quantities that are needed — probably only about ten per cent of what is needed — and the aid effort desperately needs to be scaled up.”

Tearfund is working with two church organisations in Burma: the Myanmar Baptist Convention, and World Concern. They have distributed food and medical supplies, medical treatment, and generators to pump clean water.

A report of a visit to the Pyapon area of the Irrawaddy delta by one of Tearfund’s partners states that in one village they were told 700 people were missing, and survivors had just rice and salt to live on.

Initial reports from the general secretary of the Myanmar Bible Society, Mar Gay Gyi, suggested that at least 7000 Christians died in the cyclone, and more than 300 church buildings were destroyed.

Mike Freeman, the volunteer recruitment and development officer of the Bible Society, is to lead an emergency response team with Samaritan’s Purse, the international Christian relief organisation.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said the international community could be forced to act unilaterally to bring in aid to Burma. Mervyn Thomas, its chief executive, said: “The regime is now guilty not only of neglect, but of deliberate obstruction of emergency relief efforts.”

The four bishops in the diocese of Lichfield have written to every church in the diocese to launch an emergency appeal.

In the letter, the Bishop of Lichfield, the Rt Revd Jonathan Gledhill; the Bishop of Shrewsbury, the Rt Revd Dr Alan Smith; the Bishop of Stafford, the Rt Revd Gordon Mursell; and the Bishop of Wolverhampton, the Rt Revd Clive Gregory, say: “It is difficult to know what to do when faced with a disaster on this magnitude. But there are two things we can do which will make a big difference. We can pray, and we can give.”

Burma’s state television this week revised the death toll to 28,458 with 33,416 missing, but aid workers put the death toll at nearer 100,000, with 1.9 million homeless.


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