05/08/2008, 00.00
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The Burmese Church organises post-Nargus aid

The archbishop of Yangon, a city devastated by the cyclone, reports that he will use diocesan funds to buy and distribute food, medicine, and tents among the survivors. A special committee has been created to provide essential aid to 60,000 families. Help also from the Churches of India and Thailand.

Yangon (AsiaNews/UCAN) - The Catholic Church in Myanmar is preparing its contributions to help the victims of Cyclone Nargis, which has killed more than 100,000 people in the south of the country. The information comes from the archbishop of Yangon, Charles Bo: "As much as we can, we will try to help all the people. Urgent needs are food, water and shelter, and thousands are in need of urgent medical help". The archbishop explains that the Church intends to buy and distribute basic necessities, using diocesan funds.

The territory in the archdiocese of Yangon is one of the areas hardest hit by the natural disaster of May 3.  The other, the delta of the Irrawaddy river, where the cyclone wiped out entire villages and rice paddies, is part of the diocese of Pathein. "The roofs of Catholic churches were blown off by the cyclone", Archbishop Bo recounts, "and the Catholic major seminary was also affected".

Fr Francis Than Htun, director of Karuna, the organisation for social work in the archdiocese of Yangon, explains that for days efforts have been underway to collect information from the various parishes on the extent of the damage caused by Nargis. "We decided to help all with assistance such as pure drinking water, medical support and distribution of rice", he says, adding that volunteer groups, including priests and seminarians, have been formed.

The archdiocese of Yangon has created a special committee for the emergency, the Myanmar Disaster Relief Committee, which includes representatives of the victims, the parishes, and aid partners.  The various groups are working now in the three dioceses of Yangon, Mawlamyine, and Pathein, to evaluate the extent of the disaster and the most pressing needs.  According to Fr Than Htun, the first efforts will be directed to 60,000 families of various religions, which will be given food rations for one week, water, cooking implements, candles, and tents.  The Church is also involved in providing chlorine tablets for water purification. Penelope Khin Khin, a volunteer at the Cathedral of St Mary in the former capital, recounts that food prices have risen so high that in order to eat, the people can no longer afford the material to rebuild their roofs.

Other Catholic groups in the region are also moving to bring aid to Myanmar: Caritas of Thailand has received permission to enter the country, and Caritas of India also intends to send personnel to plan aid efforts.  Protestant organisations in India have also pledged to help.

For more than 40 years, Myanmar has been ruled by a military regime that is very closed off toward Western influences.  But because of the gravity of the crisis, the generals have opened the country - albeit cautiously - to international aid.  The former Burma is a majority Buddhist country; out of 53 million inhabitants, 3 million are Christian, including 700,000 Catholics.

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See also
Nargis: more than 100,000 dead, the PIME joins aid efforts
Caritas Thailand sending first aid shipment to Nargis victims
Junta says that foreign aid is not needed; Nargis survivors can live on frogs
Nargis: the junta barters aid in exchange for "yes" vote on the constitution
Burmese junta should answer for crimes against humanity concerning cyclone victims


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