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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 Asia.

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 donations.

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

The Rev. Sam Dixon

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, 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 India."

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.

U.S. aid

"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 newsdesk@umcom.org.

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United Methodist Committee on Relief

Church World Service

Myanmar Methodist Church

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