The United Church of Christ is a founding member of the ACT, Intl. Alliance. Susan Sanders, UCC OGHS Administrator, serves on the ACT Emergency Committee.
GENEVA, May 9, 2008--In the aftermath of the worst Asian cyclone since 1991, members of the global alliance, Action by Churches Together (ACT) International, are mobilizing support to assist affected populations in Myanmar.
ACT International has established a rapid support team in Yangon and Bangkok. The team is assisting with coordination and communication for ACT members and supported local organizations, which are meeting daily in the region.
"This is a major disaster and we are working as quickly as possible to get resources and support to communities that need it the most," said ACT International Director, John Nduna.
A preliminary response in the coming days will aim to assist at least 10,000 families through water, shelter and cash for work programs.
As of May 9, the latest official figures put the death toll at 22,980 people, with as many as 42,119 still reported as missing.
Other reports cite fears that as many as 100,000 people may have died. Additionally, the UN says that 1.5 million people are "severely affected" by the emergency.
"Despite increasing access and communication challenges, the ACT Coordinating Office is in regular contact with our rapid support team along with ACT members, which have a presence on the ground. ACT is responding and will continue to respond to this devastating emergency," said Mr. Nduna.
Working across the globe, members of ACT have launched national appeals for funding and are mobilizing staff to support the humanitarian response.
An ACT member-supported local organization reports from the Irwaddy delta region, "Many townships are totally destroyed with much loss of life and infrastructure. Electricity supplies are cut off, while diesel, natural gas and petrol are unavailable."
ACT member representatives have been assessing the impact on the ground with local organizations. Initial reports indicate that the devastation is overwhelming, with little assistance having been delivered to communities. The most urgent needs are food, water, medicine and shelter.
"It was extremely shocking. People in the delta are poor to begin with. They have lived in plain shacks, which are now destroyed. Only buildings made from bricks or wood are left,"
an ACT member representative reported.
"During the three hours we sailed in the delta, I saw around 30 bodies including children," said the representative, adding that they also witnessed two mass burials.
"Just next to the corpses, women are standing, washing clothes in the river and fetching water," the representative reported, suggesting that the fear of cholera and other waterborne diseases is great.
Serious food shortage
ACT members are raising serious concerns about increasing food costs and fear that many communities might miss the next planting season.
Members report that price inflation and food shortages are inevitable in the south, but could also affect the whole country.
Sixty to seventy percent of Myanmar's rice production is grown in areas affected by the cyclone.
Seed rice for the next planting season is being consumed and land has to be cleared in many areas. Planting for the next harvest is likely to be delayed and a longer term impact on food security is expected.
Members of ACT are coordinating with the UN World Food Program and are also exploring other options to provide food assistance in the coming days if necessary.
The ACT Coordinating Office in Geneva is working closely with the ACT rapid support team in the region to get aid to vulnerable communities as quickly as possible.
"While the full extent of the damage and loss of life is not yet known, we are already applying lessons learnt from the 2004 tsunami in how we coordinate and facilitate the assistance undertaken by ACT members," said Mr. Nduna.
The ACT rapid support team is coordinating with UN agencies and other humanitarian actors to ensure the most appropriate and effective response possible for vulnerable communities in need of life-saving assistance.
"ACT members have a long history of work within Myanmar and their relationships with local organizations are proving critical to our humanitarian response," said Mr. Nduna.
ACT members Christian Aid, Church World Service and DanChurchAid contributed to this report.
Action by Churches Together (ACT) International is a global alliance of churches and related agencies working to save lives and support communities in emergencies worldwide.