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Myanmar Church officials call for help for flood victims

'Scale of devastation is massive,' Cardinal Bo says

Myanmar Church officials call for help for flood victims

A general view shows a gas station submerged by flood waters in Kalay in Myanmar's Sagaing region on Aug. 3. (Photo by Ye Aung Thu/AFP)

Church officials in Myanmar are appealing for a "compassionate" response to victims of devastating rains, floods and landslides in the country’s western reaches.

In an Aug. 4 statement, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon said food and medical supplies are urgently needed to help thousands in inundated Rakhine and Chin states and Sagaing Region.

“The scale of devastation is massive,” Bo said. “In a region [that] is chronically poor, the poor have [lost] everything and [become] refugees. Urgent survival assistance is needed in many villages. We appeal to all good-hearted people to come forward to support our brothers and sisters.”

Authorities say flash floods and landslides caused by heavy rains have killed at least 46 people and affected more than 215,000.

The cardinal called particular attention to the situation in Rakhine state, which has seen deadly religious conflicts in recent years and was already home to at least 100,000 displaced people, mainly Rohingya Muslims living in temporary camps.

“Now their agony is compounded by nature's fury,” Bo said in his statement. “[The] death toll is increasing but massive homelessness, starvation and vulnerability to infectious diseases set in.”

Slow relief

In some areas, relief workers told ucanews.com Aug. 4 that aid efforts have not yet made it to their remote locations.

Ko Tin Hlaing, who leads a volunteer relief group in Rakhine's Sittwe township, said his group has counted at least 2,000 damaged homes in his area.

“We are trying to provide some food to the people as no aid has come to the area,” Ko Tin Hlaing told ucanews.com by phone.

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Nearby, people previously displaced by Rakhine's ethnic violence now face new hardships. In Dar Paing, a camp for displaced Rohingya Muslims, rains destroyed the shelters of 100 families and damaged another 100, according to U Faruk, a committee member in Dar Paing.

“We have to move the pregnant women, the elderly and children into safe areas of the school and relatives' homes,” U Faruk told ucanews.com by phone. “We are very sorrowful and disappointed to see it as the already dire conditions of [refugee] camps have another difficulty and we are still awaiting aid.”

Ta Lung Kyaeo, secretary of the Hakha Rescue Committee in Chin State, said that local churches in the majority-Christian area are making essential contributions to the aid effort.

“The churches play a vital role in collecting rice from houses to distribute to the affected people,” Ta Lung Kyaeo said.

Still, the situation remains desperate.

“We are trying our best to help the people but roads are blocked due to landslides and only the helicopters can be used for bringing rice bags and other items so we have a lot of challenges,” Ta Lung Kyaeo said.

On Aug. 3 and 4, Caritas, the social action arm of the Catholic Church, met to plan a “large response” in areas covered by eight dioceses.

‘There will be more’

In the face of mounting criticism of authorities on social media, Myanmar's government this week admitted its “weak response” to the emergency has hampered relief efforts, state media said.

“The government's weak response to the disaster led to misunderstandings about evacuation efforts,” the state newspaper Global New Light of Myanmar reported, citing government spokesman Ye Htut.

However, it seems likely the full impact of the disaster has yet to emerge. Officials on Aug. 4 warned of further damage as the flooding spreads.

“There will be more flood victims,” said Phyu Lei Lei Tun, a director at the social welfare ministry, adding that flood warnings have now been issued in the low-lying Irrawaddy Delta region.

Heavy rains and storms during this year’s monsoon season have brought deadly flooding and landslides to many parts of Asia. The annual monsoon is a lifeline for farmers, but the rains and frequent cyclones can also prove disastrous.

In Myanmar, years of neglect and economic isolation have resulted in poor infrastructure and housing conditions. This often leaves the country particularly susceptible during even seasonal storms.

In May 2008, Cyclone Nargis devastated Myanmar's Irrawaddy Delta, killing about 140,000 people.

With additional reporting from AFP.

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