Myanmar devastated by powerful cyclone
Salvation Army immediately launches relief efforts.
by Karen Gleason –
The Salvation Army in Myanmar has been helping victims of tropical cyclone Nargis, which devastated the country—formerly called Burma—on May 3. Serving there since 1915, The Salvation Army was able to respond immediately with food and clean water distribution. Salvationists in Yangon (Rangoon) provided cooked meals from their own store of food for those in need.
“We are one of the few agencies that are able to serve people in need almost immediately because we have operations on the ground in the country serving people every day,” said Major George Hood, national community relations secretary for The Salvation Army in the U.S. “We are working to provide additional support from the U.S. and the international community to aid this local effort over the long term—it will be an extraordinarily daunting task. We are praying for all those suffering through this disaster, and we are always grateful for the thousands of donors who open their hearts at times like this.”
The cyclone’s 120-mph winds blew away whole towns and villages; a 12-foot tidal wave inundated the rice-growing Irrawaddy delta southwest of Rangoon, flooding an area the size of Austria. Hundreds of thousands of homes were destroyed. Health experts are concerned about the spread of infectious diseases, as victims—facing starvation—resort to drinking dirty water contaminated by dead bodies and animal carcasses.
While the actual death toll could be as high as 200,000, the official death toll is almost 78,000, with another 56,000 missing. With more heavy rains on the way, the situation could quickly worsen.
With up to 2.5 million people clinging to survival, children are the most vulnerable—many of them orphaned or lost, fending for themselves.
On Monday, May 12, the Myanmar government allowed the U.S. to bring in relief following prolonged negotiations; a British aid flight was also en route. Another two U.S. flights were scheduled to land on Tuesday.
The Salvation Army—
on the scene
The Myanmar Region of The Salvation Army’s Singapore, Malaysia and Myanmar Territory includes a headquarters (RHQ), a School for Officer Training, a boys’ home and a girls’ home—all in Rangoon—and further north in Pyu, another children’s home. The Army has 45 corps throughout the country.
Western officers Captains Ian and Isobel Robinson have served in the territory for four years; he is territorial secretary for program and she is director of Peacehaven, a nursing home in Singapore.
In a communication dated May 7, Robinson wrote: “The Army’s Boys’ Home and Girls’ Home both have artesian wells on site, and were able to run their generators throughout the day and evening to supply the local community with clean water.
“Regional Headquarters [in Rangoon] lost its entire roof during the cyclone and water damage was extensive. Furnishings, computers and other equipment were totally destroyed; the building will likely need to be torn down and entirely rebuilt. The building also housed the Yangon Central Corps. Meantime, RHQ has relocated to the newly built Boys’ Home, causing the boys to squeeze into a reduced accommodation space.
The Boy’s Home, opened just three weeks ago, lost part of the roof over their food storage area. Rather than let the rice spoil, Salvationists cooked it in large batches, and gave it to needy families in the immediate vicinity.
“Electricity has not yet been restored in the city, but that is not unusual. Yangon never has a period of 24 hours without a power outage. The death toll, particularly in rural and coastal areas, is expected to grow to over 100,000 and an estimated one million people are homeless.
“The Army has received pledges of US$500,000, mostly from the two Australian territories and Hong Kong, and more is expected and needed. Commissioner David Bringans, Territorial Commander, and Captain Julian Wong, emergency services coordinator, hope to travel to Yangon next week—visas are taking over one week for approval, even for emergency requests.
“Pray for the victims of this terrible disaster; for those who have been left homeless, especially for children who have lost their parents. Pray for the rebuilding effort, of which The Salvation Army will play a major role. Pray for the tens of thousands of Myanmar nationals working outside of the country as they await news of family and friends affected by the tragedy.”
Other Army work in Myanmar
The Salvation Army in Myanmar runs a wide-ranging community based HIV/AIDS program in Upper Myanmar, as well as a primary school in the same area, which allows many children to attend school who otherwise would not be able to because of river flooding. To finance the school, children bring 10 bags of rice from the harvest, which the school then sells, using the income (about US$700) to run the school for a year.
The country has a population of approximately 48 million people.
Donations—specified for the “Myanmar cyclone”—may be made at , or by calling 1-800-SAL-ARMY.