Cyclone Nargis made landfall May 2 and devastated southern Myanmar’s (also known as Burma) delta region. According to news reports, it drove a wall of water over coastal communities before many residents could escape. The U.S. government estimates that the death toll could reach 100,000.
Mennonite Central Committee now seeks $500,000 in relief funds, half of which have already been allocated. While they don’t currently have workers or programs in Myanmar, MCC will support the work of partner organizations. MCC has committed funds to Metta, a Burmese development organization which will distribute rice and medicine, Hope International which will provide medical care, Church World Service which will provided water purification, and IDE-Myanmar which will distribute water containers, pumps, and plastic sheeting.
Tom Wenger, MCC associate director for Asia, notes that Myanmar will need long-term assistance to recover from the cyclone’s devastation. While the full magnitude of the disaster has yet to emerge, the cyclone reportedly caused widespread destruction in Myanmar’s main rice-growing region, endangering the country’s food supplies.
“For many of these rural families, three quarters of their income goes toward purchasing food,” Wenger said. “So, they were already vulnerable economically, even before the cyclone hit.”
Wenger visited Myanmar in April, less than a month before the cyclone made landfall. He said that Myanmar is a predominantly agricultural nation that is less connected to the West, politically and economically, than many other parts of Asia. Buddhism is the predominant religion, but there are active Christian and Muslim minorities.
Ron Flaming, MCC director of international programs, said the cyclone may provide the opportunity for MCC to be more involved in Myanmar in the future. “We know there are going to be massive needs for rebuilding,” he said. “We plan to be engaged in that.”
—Tim Shenk for MCC