NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Five days after a cyclone’s widespread devastation in Myanmar, the first two planeloads of United Nations relief supplies landed in the capital, Yangon, April 8. Observers fear the death toll could rise from 23,000 to more than 100,000 because safe supplies of drinking water and food are not available to large numbers of people.
Visas for relief workers, however, still have not been approved by the country’s military government.
A Southern Baptist relief effort is focusing on establishing reliable communications with partners in Myanmar, said Jeff Palmer, executive director of Baptist Global Response, a Southern Baptist international relief and development organization.
Cyclone Nargis wiped out much of Myanmar’s communications networks and has made it difficult even for the country’s own relief system to ascertain the extent of the damage. In addition to food and clean water, aid organizations expect that the most urgent needs will include plastic sheeting, water purification tablets, mosquito nets and emergency health kits.
The death toll stands at 22,980, with another 42,119 people missing, according to Myanmar’s state media. Up to 1 million people are homeless. Relief organizations are concerned about outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and illnesses such as diarrhea that often occur in the wake of natural disasters because of dirty water and poor sanitation.
“Our priority is now to establish reliable communication with partners in Myanmar,” Palmer said. “We hope to have some things in place communications-wise in a few days. From all our sources, we understand other organizations are also experiencing difficulty in responding.”
Southern Baptists have allocated an initial $100,000 to provide basic necessities for people affected by the cyclone, Palmer said. Once a comprehensive on-ground assessment of the situation can be made, relief efforts will proceed in partnership with key Myanmar nationals, who will be instrumental in any response Southern Baptists are able to implement.
“This looks to have the makings of a long-term response, so we want to lay a good foundation as we start,” Palmer said. “We are beginning to ready partners here in the U.S. in case Myanmar’s government decides to allow international aid groups to enter the country and we are able to mount a response from here.”
In the meantime, Palmer said, Southern Baptists can get involved in relief efforts for Myanmar’s people by doing the most important thing Christians can do: Praying that God would reveal His love to the country’s suffering multitudes.
“You can get involved right now by praying for those who are trying to recover from this disaster and those who are racing to help them restore their lives,” Palmer said. “Pray that God would open the doors to allow our trained disaster response people into the country. This is still a huge barrier.”
Compiled by Mark Kelly, an assistant editor at Baptist Press. The Baptist Global Response website is at gobgr.org.