“Without Caritas and the Church in Myanmar, many people would have starved after Cyclone Nargis hit,” said Archbishop Charles Bo of Yangon on a recent visit to the Caritas offices in the Vatican.
Cyclone Nargis hit the Ayeyarwady Delta region of Myanmar (also known as Burma) on 2 May 2008, causing death and destruction beyond anything experienced there before.
Just days later, Archbishop Bo visited the worst affected areas.
“I had never seen such a disaster, “ he said. “30 to 40 villages, 300 to 400 houses wiped away. All that remained were the cabbages. And the bodies of dead people and dead animals.”
Local Caritas and Church staff were able to provide help immediately as they were not affected by government travel restrictions on foreign aid workers. They provided food, shelter, and counselling.
“Many people came to me to express gratitude for the help they received in the first few days,” said the Archbishop. He believes 95 percent of aid given to Caritas has reached the people who need it the most.
The Archbishop says that there have been visible improvements. But he stresses that the emergency situation continues because the rice growing delta was flooded with salty water, making it impossible to grow crops. Caritas is still supplying rice, but is now looking at the next phase of the response.
“Next year, with lots of ran, the salt water will disappear,” he said. “The need will be for the farmers to have buffalos and cows to plant crops. The fishing communities will need boats and nets. Some will need decent shelter and houses. The Church will also take care of the children, rebuilding schools and providing shelter.
“While people are trying to survive emergency, they are grateful for help in standing up on their two feet and getting on with lives. They are not discouraged, but are ready to face the challenge.”
Archbishop Charles Bo says the difficulties for the people in Myanmar will not go away, but he hopes that the aid for the survivors of Nargis will improve lives.
“Previously, the poor lived in huts, from hand to mouth, he said. “Present houses are more decent. With the provision for work for farmers and fishermen, many will have a better livelihood than before Nargis.”