Myanmar

Myanmar update from John Woodberry

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June 2, 2008, Dhaka, Bangladesh-My heart aches for the suffering people of Myanmar. It has been one month since Cyclone Nargis hit the coast of Myanmar, killing approximately 120,000 and leaving 2.4 million in need of priority assistance.

WFP (World Food Program) field staff are finding entire communities with every building destroyed and survivors living without any outside assistance. Food, drinking water, and shelter remain immediate necessities. Despite efforts from around the world, as of today, we still do not have permission to help. We started working immediately after the cyclone hit to get permissions to bring our float plane in from Bangladesh. This aircraft was so helpful in the Bangladesh Cyclone Sidr response. Our staff and plane are on standby. The one helicopter UN flew in to the capital Yangon, still waits on the tarmac, not yet allowed to fly relief into the remote Irrawaddy delta area of southern Myanmar. The only flights it was allowed to do were during the UN Secretary General visit.

The pictures and stories from the delta continue to present a desperate and tragic situation.

Recent news:

In a Bangkok report dated 28 May 2008 (IRIN - http://www.IRINnews.org) - Jemilah Mahmood, an obstetrician, and member of the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team 'Flying over the affected area, I couldn't help but think this is worse than the 2004 Asian tsunami; so many deaths and displacement over such a large area. The flood surge was certainly much wider - up to 35km in some areas compared with 5km or 6km in the tsunami. It's here in the rural and more isolated parts of the delta - much of which remains inaccessible - that the real challenge lies. International assistance is still just reaching a small percentage of the affected population and that's not good enough. At this point, shelter is the primary need. The rains have already started and soon the monsoon will begin. People are still living in tents, while others are in makeshift homes or taking refuge in schools.....Added to this are issues of access to clean drinking water, sanitation, food and health care, coupled with pressure on local communities to get back to their farms and begin replanting.

It is over a week since the government promised to allow in 'all' legitimate foreign aid workers. UN team visas have just been approved, but red tape is still hampering access to the Irrawaddy delta. NGOs are still struggling getting visas and this won't change rapidly. Staff going into the delta, need to be accompanied by a government official.

As a praise note, some Christian and International agencies with pre-existing projects in Myanmar are able to help. Despite all the road blocks and difficulties, they have been able to work through the local church and other local partners to get some help in. So much more is needed.

The MAF world wide team has been fantastic. Staff, planes and equipment are standing by, ready and compelled to help. So many have come together that need to be thanked. Mechanics and engineers came from around the world to make sure the Bangladesh float plane was ready to assist. The Caravan float plane and staff in Papua where on standby to come help. Visas and permission to operate requests where submitted in Dhaka, Yangon, London, Bangkok, and Washington DC. Donors where on standby to help fund our relief efforts. Staff, friends and supporters where praying for us. We came very close to getting permission with having the Myanmar Minister of Defense and the Minister of Social Welfare approving our request to help. The Prime minster ultimately turned down our request. Brad was invaluable on the ground in Yangon.

I have returned to Dhaka, Bangladesh to wait with our float plane and will return home if nothing happens. We are waiting to see if the UN helicopter is able to operate as this might signal the door opening slightly. Brad is on standby to return to Yangon.

I was encouraged by a by an email I received, 'That must be deeply frustrating for you and MAF. And I feel the disappointment for the many victims who could have been helped through these flights going in with relief supplies. It's in HIS Hands ... and so, keep the engines running. He will open doors when (and from ways and through people) ... we least expect. Truth - there is a spiritual battle going on that we won't see this side of heaven. My God be glorified in our efforts and attitudes that are surrendered to Him. May we all be found faithful. God calls us to be light, and be His light, to this dark and suffering world.'

Prayer requests:

- Please continue to pray for those suffering in Myanmar and that access to the Irrawaddy delta will increase.

- More NGOs, including MAF, Government agencies etc. would be allowed to bring desperately needed aid to the people.

Praise:

- For the help that is getting in and the involvement of the local church in helping in every way they can.

John Woodberry
MAF
Disaster Response Manager