Myanmar’s resistance to working with outsiders is not only delaying the delivery of much-need aid to survivors of a May 2 cyclone, but may be hampering fund raising by charitable organizations awaiting specific information about how prospective donors can help.
Despite general fund-raising appeals, “We have certainly not seen a flood of donations–yet,” Paul Montacute, director of Baptist World Aid said in an e-mail to EthicsDaily.com. “We are hopeful that more will come once stories begin to come out.”
Montacute said he would know more after a meeting scheduled this Saturday for disaster-relief leaders from about a dozen Baptist groups around the world to receive updates about relief efforts in response to both Cyclone Nargis and a May 12 earthquake in the Sichuan province of China.
Montacute, head of relief and development for the Baptist World Alliance, initiated the meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, which is being organized by the Asia Pacific Baptist Federation, one of six continental unions comprising the BWA. Formed in 1973, the federation includes 55 Baptist conventions from 20 countries spanning geography from Australia and New Zealand in the south to Japan and Korea in the north and as far west as India.
Members include the Myanmar Baptist Convention, which is recognized by the nation’s military government and through which most of aid from the global world community is being funneled. So far the convention has distributed food, medicine, blankets, clothing, shoes and other essential items,” according to a report by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. By May 16, the convention had established about 30 refugee camps serving up to 12,000 survivors.
Along with leading aid efforts, Baptists in Myanmar suffered a heavy toll in the tragedy. The BWA Alliance said Wednesday that Baptist churches have lost more than 10,000 members who died as a result of the storm, and more than 94,000 others have lost homes or property. Many church buildings were destroyed, and the Myanmar Baptist Convention headquarters received major damage.
Long fearful of an invasion by the United States aimed at taking over the country’s oil reserves, Myanmar’s ruling junta is very suspicious about offers of outside aid. On Wednesday the government shunned a U.S. proposal for naval ships to deliver aid for an estimated 2.5 million survivors facing hunger, homelessness and disease, but said it would allow 10 helicopters to be brought in by the United Nations’ World Food Programme.
Two Hungarian members of a BWAid Rescue 24 team were allowed to enter Myanmar, while a team from Australia was denied visas after waiting seven days for results of an application process in Bangkok. The Australian Baptists returned home, leaving behind the medical supplies they carried o be distributed through a local BWA partner.
The Hungarian team is reportedly in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city and one of the areas in the low-lying Irrawaddy Delta region devastated by the storm, which may have drowned as many as 100,000 and left nearly 2 million homeless.
“Together with the local members of Baptist World Aid we have started to hand out aid in the worst stricken area,” team members reported to BWAid. The group was working in five camps where approximately 15,000 displaced persons lived in cramped conditions. Immediate needs consisted of drinking water, rice, salt, oil, blankets and plastic sheeting. A spokesman said Wednesday the aid is “literally saving lives.”
CBF field worker Rick Burnette already had a visa to enter Myanmar issued prior to the tragedy. He traveled to the country to assess damage and relief needs. The CBF has already given an initial $5,000 to relief efforts in Myanmar. CBF personnel are also on the ground in Chengdu, China ministering to earthquake victims.
BMS World Mission in Great Britain worked with a partner to assess needs in Myanmar.
Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., issued a call to prayer for the country formerly known as Burma.
“In the wake of the continuing tragedy in Burma, I am asking that American Baptist congregations remember the churches and people of Burma in prayer on the Sunday before Memorial Day,” Medley said. “The loss of life is tragic as well as the delay in the receipt of aid. Let us pray for all in need and for those who govern them.”
American Baptist International Ministries launched a Global Food Crisis Fund to help partners deal with rising food costs. The fund will begin with $100,000, with half going immediately to the Thailand Burma Border Consortium to help them with the rising cost of rice, which is the primary staple food given to hundreds of thousands of displaced people living in the refugee camps.
“Our fund is a response to our partners and other Christian organizations who are on the frontlines of helping to feed the hungry and homeless every day,” said Reid Trulson, International Ministries executive director. “We want to help them so they don’t have to cut back on basic staples their people need for survival.”
Texas Baptist Men dispatched a seven-person team to Bangkok with hopes of entering Myanmar. After several days, the team determined the best way to help cyclone victims was to meet needs by working through Thai contacts.
While making those connections, the Texans received an invitation to help with water needs after a 7.9 magnitude earthquake hit China, killing more than 40,000 people and leaving an estimated 5 million homeless.
TBM responded by sending 500 small water-purification units to China as well as 100 large community water purifiers. “This is a tremendous opportunity,” TBM Logistics Coordinator Dick Talley said in a Baptist General Convention news release.
Hungarian Baptist Aid committed to helping the town of Tengtu in southwest China, where more than two-thirds of a population of 10,000 reportedly died. LÃ¡szlÃ³ Pavelcze, leader of a special rescue team visited Tengtu, delivering $5,000 for a local contact person to buy food and other necessities.
Virginia Baptists are raising money for a disaster-relief fund started by the Amity Foundation, an organization of the China Christian Council with which the Baptist General Association of Virginia has a partnership of fellowship and prayer.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
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Bob Allen was the managing editor at EthicsDaily.com from 2003-2009, writing more than 1,500 news stories during his tenure. He is currently the news editor at Baptist News Global.