Children at risk in Myanmar’s cyclone wake

By May 16, 2008

Myanmar (MNN) — The death toll continues climbing in Myanmar in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis. The May 3rd disaster officially has claimed about 40,000 lives, but many more are still missing. Millions are displaced and are also at risk, says Vision Beyond Borders Founder Patrick Klein.

Klein just returned from the region and says while the initial calamity is sobering, what could happen now is even worse. "1-million to 2-million people could be affected by this — they could actually die because of disease, food shortage and water problems. The water is polluted; disease is starting to set in and a lot of starvation."

Vision Beyond Borders has been working in Myanmar for 15 years by sponsoring children and starting medical clinics.

Klein says the military junta government is still not allowing in large numbers of aid agencies. "The generals are very hard-hearted. They only care about themselves. They don't care if all these people die. We saw a lot of propaganda on TV while we were in the country. They showed the soldiers giving out food, giving out water, and giving out medicines, but that was only isolated incidents. It was just trying show the people that the government's really for them, but the people know the government's not for them."

The cyclone has all but destroyed Myanmar's rice crop, which is one of the world's largest producers of rice. Klein says, "They're talking about instead of eating solid rice, now they're going to make porridge every day and eat porridge so they can conserve on rice."

Klein says the economic situation isn't helping, witnessed by his Burmese taxi driver. "He told us he got up at midnight, waiting from midnight to eight in the morning to get gasoline. When he got up there to get gas, he could only get two gallons, and it was $10 a gallon."

Egg prices have tripled, rice has doubled in price, and there's no end in sight.

The stories of entire villages waiting for relief are endless, including a village of 500. "One third of the people were wiped out in the village. They said somebody from the government came to check on them and did not bring any supplies for them. They said they were rationing the food off. Their water supplies have been cut in half because it's contaminated, and it was just like they're waiting their time out to die."

This is a difficult relief effort. Klein says, "Any flights that go in, the government takes whatever has been flown in. So we're trying to find other ways to get stuff in. I think other people are looking at finding ways to get stuff in."

Klein was on his way back from Thailand when the cyclone hit. "We went running around Bangkok to pharmacies until about one in the morning, going and buying all the medicine we could to take into Burma. We flew in the next day, and our contact said we were probably the first foreigners to get in with medicine."

Now reports indicate another problem. Klein says, "We've heard that there are now 6,000 orphans that they know of from the cyclone. And I believe that we have an opportunity as a church to reach out to orphans. So we're trying to get them out of the cyclone areas and then get them into children's homes, Christian homes, where these kids can come to know Jesus."

The UN says these orphans are at risk of sexual and other abuse and human trafficking because they're unaccompanied in the cyclone shelters.

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