BURMA: Cyclone Death Toll Could Hit 100,000

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UPDATE: YANGON, Myanmar — Bodies floated in flood waters and survivors tried to reach dry ground on boats using blankets as sails, while the top U.S. diplomat in Myanmar said Wednesday that up to 100,000 people may have died in the devastating cyclone. Hungry crowds stormed the few shops that opened in the country’s stricken Irrawaddy delta, sparking fist fights, according to Paul Risley, a spokesman for the U.N. World Food Program in neighboring Thailand. Shari Villarosa, who heads the U.S. Embassy in Myanmar, said food and water are running short in the delta area and called the situation there “increasingly horrendous.”

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In the wake of a massive cyclone, at least 22,000 Burmese are dead. More than 40,000 are missing. A million are homeless.But what’s happening in Burma is not just a natural disaster–it’s also a catastrophe of bad leadership.Burma’s brutal and corrupt military junta failed to warn the people, failed to evacuate anyburmafinal72_2.jpg areas, and suppressed freedom of communication so that Burmese people didn’t know the storm was coming when the rest of the world did. Now the government is failing to respond to the disaster and obstructing international aid organizations.

Humanitarian relief is urgently needed, but Burma’s government could easily delay, divert or misuse any aid. Today the International Burmese Monks Organization, including many leaders of the democracy protests last fall, launched a new effort to provide relief through Burma’s powerful grass roots network of monasteries–the most trusted institutions in the country and currently the only source of housing and support in many devastated communities. Giving to the monks is a smart, fast way to get aid directly to Burma’s people. Governments and international aid organizations are important, but face challenges–they may not be allowed into Burma, or they may be forced to provide aid according to the junta’s rules. And most will have to spend large amounts of money just setting up operations in the country. The monks are already on the front lines of the aid effort–housing, feeding, and supporting the victims of the cyclone since the day it struck. The International Burmese Monks Organization will send money directly to each monastery through their own networks, bypassing regime controls.

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Last year, more than 800,000 of us around the world stood with the Burmese people as they rose up against the military dictatorship. The government lost no time then in dispatching its armies to ruthlessly crush the nonviolent democracy movement–but now, as tens of thousands die, the junta’s response is slow and threatens to divert precious aid into the corrupt regime’s pockets.The monks are unlikely to receive aid from governments or large humanitarian organizations, but they have a stronger presence and trust among the Burmese people than both. If we all chip in a little bit, we can help them to make a big difference.

With hope,

Ricken, Ben, Graziela, Paul, Iain, Veronique, Pascal, Galit and the whole Avaaz team

ABOUT AVAAZ
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