|UMCOR starts response to Myanmar cyclone|
A satellite image shows the path of Cyclone Nargis as it strikes the coast of Myanmar on May 3. A UMNS photo courtesy of NASA.
By Linda Bloom*
May 7, 2008 | NEW YORK (UMNS)
As the death toll rises in Myanmar, the United Methodist Committee on
Relief is planning its response to the devastating cyclone in Southeast
As of May 7, more than 22,000 were presumed dead from the cyclone, which
struck May 3 and wiped out entire villages. Another 41,000 people are
missing, according to Myanmar’s state-run media. A U.S. diplomat based
in Myanmar later told CNN on May 7 that the death toll could exceed
100,000, with another 70,000 missing.
The path of Cyclone Nargis included Hsing Gyi Island, through the
rice-producing Irrawaddy Delta and the main city of Yangon (formerly
Rangoon) and finally into the Pegu region.
UMCOR is working on relief efforts with its partner Church World Service
and has established UMCOR Advance No. 3019674, Myanmar emergency, for
Methodism has had a small but longtime presence in Myanmar, formerly
known as Burma. Bishop Zothan Mawia of the Methodist Church of the Union
of Myanmar was a delegate to the April 23-May 2 United Methodist
General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.
His church was founded by U.S. missionaries in the late 1800s, split in
1994, but reunited in 2000 when the bishop was elected. The Methodist
Church of Upper
Myanmar was founded in Mandalay in 1887 by several British Methodist
pastors and later became the Burma district of the British Methodist
Conference. Both churches became autonomous when Burma gained
independence in 1964.
The Rev. Sam Dixon
The Rev. Sam Dixon, UMCOR’s chief executive, has been in contact with
Mawia, who had stayed in the United States to attend his daughter’s
college graduation ceremony. "He’s tried to find ways to get back but
has not been successful," Dixon said in a May 7 interview.
Dixon expressed concern to the bishop about the loss of life and
destruction of property caused by the cyclone, along with its leaving
many in Myanmar without a way to produce income. Of particular concern,
he added, is "the long-term consequences of the inability to produce
rice, not only for their own consumption but for export to Sri Lanka and
UMCOR wants to support the Burmese community in the United States as
well as cyclone survivors in Myanmar. "We are somewhat limited in our
ability to do so," Dixon acknowledged. "Our only active partner there is
Church World Service."
UMCOR has responded to the $5,000 initial request from Church World
Service, and Dixon was scheduled to take part in a telephone call with
Action by Churches Together, which could offer the opportunity to
connect with additional partners for emergency response. The agency
would consider becoming operational itself in Myanmar "if the
circumstances would permit us to do so," he said.
"Because they (Myanmar’s government) are on the watch list for the
(U.S.) federal government, it’s difficult to get money into the country
legally," Dixon explained.
On May 6, U.S. President George W. Bush signed a bill, passed by
leaders of Congress, honoring Daw Aung San Suu Kyi with the
Congressional Gold Medal. She has been under house arrest by Myanmar’s
military government for 12 of the last 18 years.
"Burma has been hit by a terrible natural disaster," Bush said after the
signing. "Laura and I and members of the Senate and House here express
our heartfelt sympathy to the people of Burma. The United States has
made an initial aid contribution, but we want to do a lot more. We're
prepared to move U.S. Navy assets to help find those who've lost their
lives, to help find the missing, to help stabilize the situation. But in
order to do so, the military junta must allow our disaster assessment
teams into the country.
"So our message is to the military rulers: Let the United States come
to help you, help the people. Our hearts go out to the people of Burma.
We want to help them deal with this terrible disaster. At the same
time, of course, we want them to live in a free society."
Donations to UMCOR for UMCOR Advance No. 3019674, Myanmar emergency, can
be made online at http://new.gbgm-umc.org/umcor/. Checks also can be
dropped in church offering plates or mailed directly to UMCOR, PO Box
9068, New York, NY 10087-9068. Credit card donations are accepted by
phone at (800) 554-8583.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or email@example.com.
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United Methodist Committee on Relief
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Myanmar Methodist Church