Friday, May 23, 2008

Children, elderly dying from dysentery in Myanmar, says CWS.

In cyclone-stricken areas of Myanmar (Burma), the second wave of disaster is beginning to wash over survivors with the fewest resources to cope. The elderly and children are beginning to die of dysentery because of a lack of clean drinking water, according to reports from staff of Church World Service (CWS) and local organizations working in the region.

From their Asia Pacific Region offices in Bangkok, CWS staff said May 21 that aid workers in a remote village in the country reported seeing a four-year-old child and a 70-year-old man die due to severe diarrhea. "They were wasting away and they died," said a spokesman for the local organization, which cannot be named for security reasons. "There will be another wave of deaths from cholera from drinking dirty water. People are telling us it is already starting to strike," he said.

CWS and other aid agencies who are members of the Action By Churches Together (ACT) alliance are supporting and coordinating with local organizations who are delivering desperately needed clean water, water containers, and water purification supplies, along with emergency shelter and food to survivors. One of the local organizations in Myanmar is providing clean water for 25,000 people a day. Now working in hundreds of the hardest-hit villages in the Irrawaddy Delta, the group is focusing on areas where no aid has arrived since cyclone Nargis hit May 2-3.

CWS says the local aid teams are delivering lightweight, 975-liter water baskets that are made of plastic and easy to make and transport. Each "basket," when filled with purified water or rainwater, can provide drinking water for 450 people a day.

"We often arrive in a village and we are the first ones there. We see people who are very ill and who have injuries from the cyclone," the aid worker said. "People are drinking contaminated water from ponds or rivers."

CWS Emergency Response Program director Donna Derr said local organizations have been delivering relief supplies so far, even in the face of challenges, "with materials either purchased within Myanmar or that had been pre-positioned in the country prior to the disaster." To deliver those supplies, one local partner’s teams walked five miles through the mud to reach one village. They estimate that in a week they do three days of work, and the rest traveling and dealing with logistics. When traveling by boat, they wear life jackets because many of them do not know how to swim.

"Only if you have worked on the moon, will you know what it is like to work in Burma," one of the aid team members said. "It is a totally different context here."

"People in the delta area were vulnerable before the cyclone," said Derr. "Now they are over the edge of forbearance."

Most Burmese on the Irrawaddy, considered the agricultural rice bowl of the country, are landless laborers who live in fragile shacks in the fields. "They are the ones who were worst hit by the storm," said Derr.

CWS is warning against an impending and longterm food security crisis in the affected areas of Myanmar. "If communities don't get rice seeds in the ground within the next month, there may not be rice crops for several years to come," said Derr, "It's critical that we ensure that this major disaster doesn't turn into an ongoing catastrophe."

"But by all counts, the relief phase is not over," she added. "We’ve just gotten another report from one of the worst-hit villages that people are still not able to bury the dead because the ground is still so waterlogged."

Does that mean that CWS and other humanitarian agencies are still urging contributions from donors? "Absolutely," said Derr.

--This report is from a press release by Church World Service and Action by Churches Together alliance member Christian Aid, dated May 22. Donna Derr is a former staff member of the Church of the Brethren General Board.

Source: 5/23/2008 Newsline

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