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MCC launches Myanmar cyclone appeal

Tim Shenk
May 7, 2008

AKRON, Pa. – Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is appealing for financial contributions to support relief and recovery efforts in Myanmar, also known as Burma, following a catastrophic cyclone in the southeast Asian nation.

Cyclone Nargis made landfall on May 2 and devastated southern Myanmar's delta region. According to news reports, the cyclone 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.

MCC is committing an initial $100,000 to cyclone relief and recovery efforts. While MCC does not currently have workers or programs in Myanmar, MCC will support the work of partner organizations that are already active in the country.

MCC is in discussions with partner organizations about how best to support their relief work. Some potential partner organizations are already responding by providing cyclone survivors with water purification tablets, food, tarpaulins, blankets and other supplies, according to Tom Wenger, MCC's associate director for Asia.

Wenger 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.

Wenger said that the cyclone may provide the opportunity for MCC to be more involved in Myanmar in the future.

"This may be the moment when Burma will open up," he said.