Thursday, May 15, 2008

Newsline Update: Disaster Response


The Church of the Brethren has given a total of $40,000 in two grants-- an initial grant of $5,000 and a follow up grant of $35,000--for relief efforts in Myanmar following Cyclone Nargis. The grants support the work of Church World Service (CWS) and its partners in Myanmar, and are given from the denomination's Emergency Disaster Fund. The money supports relief work being carried out by local groups to provide safe water and temporary shelters, with a more detailed longterm response being planned by CWS.

A grant of $30,000 for disaster relief following the China earthquake is in process, also from the Emergency Disaster Fund. This grant will support a larger coordinated response through CWS, with long-time partner Amity Foundation as the primary implementing agency in China.

Donations are being received to the Emergency Disaster Fund in anticipation of further grants responding to these disasters. Congregations and individuals may contribute to Church of the Brethren disaster relief work by sending donations to the Emergency Disaster Fund, 1451 Dundee Ave., Elgin, IL 60120.

Brethren Disaster Ministries reported that the first phase of the response in China is immediate relief supplies including food, quilts, and shelter materials. The longer term response will include the rebuilding of homes, schools, hospitals, and safe water supplies. It is likely that the Church of the Brethren will give additional grants to support this longterm response, said the staff of Brethren Disaster Ministries.

In a report from CWS about the situation in China, Amity Foundation staff working in partnership with CWS have been assessing the damage in affected areas. Amity has already provided 1 million Yuan (approximately $143,000) for the purchase and provision of drinking water and food for heavily-damaged Du Jiangyan.

Working with local partners in each province, CWS-supported relief operations are expected to expand to include a number of other counties in Sichuang Province, the city of Longnan in Gansu Province, and Baoji city and Hanzhong city in Sha'anxi Province. CWS said that the areas of Gansu and Sha'anxi, especially Sichuan, are being targeted as the most severely affected areas, with large losses.

CWS partner Amity Foundation will focus its relief on some 8,000 families whose homes are destroyed and who are among the most vulnerable. Amity expects to ensure that 16,000 of the most vulnerable individuals have sufficient food (15 kilos of rice per person) during the immediate emergency period; that 8,000 families have sufficient additional protection against cold weather in the form of quilts; that 8,000 homeless families also have the added protection of plastic cloth to help them survive heavy rains forecast for the quake center areas.

The longterm plans for rebuilding by CWS and Amity Foundation include rehabilitation of 600 houses that were destroyed or severely damaged, construction of 10 schools, rebuilding five hospitals or clinics, and rehabilitating five drinking water or irrigation systems. CWS said the total budget is estimated at close to $1.5 million.
Local organizations are making the difference in Myanmar following the cyclone, according to CWS. The agency holds an appropriate license from the US government to provide financial help to Myanmar for emergency aid purposes, and the CWS Asia Pacific Regional Office in Bangkok, Thailand, is organizing response among faith-based, nongovernmental organizations that are members of the Action by Churches Together International Alliance (ACT).

Local organizations in Myanmar are delivering food, water, and shelter two weeks after the cyclone and as tens of thousands of people still wait for assistance. CWS continues to report that its support is reaching survivors in need. It expects to continue to expand fundraising to support relief efforts in the country. CWS first provided humanitarian assistance in Burma in 1959 and has longterm partnerships there.

In the face of aid shipment and distribution challenges facing international sources, CWS said that local organizations are distributing relief supplies with commodities either purchased elsewhere in Myanmar, or purchased regionally and transported through channels that are still open into the country. Myanmar maintains open land-trade routes with Thailand and India that allow for importation of supplies. Local organizations have the advantage of knowing how best to obtain and distribute those goods, to where they're needed most, CWS said.

CWS and ACT member agencies are now warning against an impending and longer term food security crisis in Myanmar, if communities do not get rice seeds in the ground within the next month. There may not be rice crops for years to come, CWS said. Exacerbating the problem of getting rice for food and for planting quickly into the hands of survivors, experts report that flood waters have corrupted planting fields with salt in the affected areas of Myanmar.

Now is the time to support local organizations on the ground providing much needed urgent assistance, CWS said. Commitments made to survivors now will help them ensure that they can rebuild their lives, the agency emphasized.

The Church of the Brethren is just one of a variety of faith organizations aiding the CWS effort for Myanmar, in addition to public donations and other grants. The agency also has received support from United Methodist Church/UMCOR, Presbyterian Church USA/Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), United Church of Christ, and Episcopal Relief and Development, among others.

Go to to view a Church World Service slide show on the response in Myanmar, with commentary.
Brethren Disaster Ministries:
Brethren Disaster Ministries is a program of the Church of the Brethren. In addition to its support to ecumenical partners responding to international disasters, the program also continues rebuilding homes following domestic disasters of the last few years in the United States. In early April, Brethren Disaster Ministries opened a new Hurricane Katrina rebuilding site in East New Orleans (Arabi), La., and another Hurricane Katrina rebuilding site is located in Chalmette, La. A third longterm project site in Rushford, Minn., is rebuilding homes following flooding. Go to for more information.

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