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U Kala plows a neighbor's rice field in Kungyangon Township, Myanmar, with a power tiller provided by IDE-Myanmar, an MCC partner organization. Tim Shenk

U Kala plows a neighbor's rice field in Kungyangon Township, Myanmar, with a power tiller provided by IDE-Myanmar, an MCC partner organization. Tim Shenk

MCC launches three-year response to Myanmar cyclone

Tim Shenk
August 18, 2008

AKRON, Pa. – Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is planning to provide more than $1.1 million in aid over three years to help people recover from Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, the southeast Asian nation also known as Burma.

Cyclone Nargis, which made landfall on May 2, was the worst natural disaster in Myanmar's history. The storm drove a tidal surge into the Ayeyarwady delta, a densely populated agricultural region, killing more than 84,000 people and causing widespread destruction to villages and farms.

In May and June, MCC provided $100,000 to four partner organizations in Myanmar to distribute food, water and other aid to cyclone survivors. In July, MCC began a longer-term response to the cyclone that is focused on helping people in the disaster area to recover their livelihoods and cope with psychological trauma.

MCC is helping to provide financial support to a partner organization, IDE-Myanmar, to distribute power tillers, rice seed, fertilizer and cash assistance to farming families in the Ayeyarwady delta. MCC served as the lead agency in a coalition of nine Canadian church organizations that obtained $300,000 from the Canadian International Development Agency for this project.

On July 23, three MCC staff persons visited the Ayeyarwady delta village of Taung Gon and met with farmers who described their losses in the cyclone. Htay Myint, 42, told how the tidal surge had swept through his farmland, destroying his rice seed and killing the three oxen he would need to plow his fields. Myint said that the cyclone killed more than 100 people in low-lying areas around his village, including his nephew.

After the cyclone, IDE-Myanmar provided farmers in Taung Gon with power tillers and rice seed to plow and plant their fields.

"If it were not for these tillers, we would not be able to reclaim this damaged land," Myint said.

Local people also told harrowing tales of survival. Maung Sein Win, 41, recounted how he and his wife fled for higher ground with children on their shoulders after the tidal surge knocked the walls off their house. When the storm passed the next day, Win could see the extent of the devastation in the fields around Taung Gon.

"It was a huge expanse of water like the sea, and there were many bodies there," he said.

Psychological trauma is widespread among cyclone survivors, according to staff members of MCC partner organizations who have provided relief in the disaster area. MCC is working with several organizations to develop plans for trauma healing activities in communities in the Ayeyarwady delta.

After devastating the delta, Cyclone Nargis struck Yangon, Myanmar's largest city, and caused considerable property damage. At the Myanmar Institute of Theology, a Christian college in Yangon, the cyclone drove rainwater through roofs and windows, damaging 14 computers and thousands of library books. MCC helped the institute replace its computers and repair its library.

"This is a big, big answer of God to our prayers," said Dr. Maung Maung Yin, the institute's vice president. "Thank you very much for that."