Catholic Agencies Mobilized To Bring Emergency Aid to Suffering of Burma

Washington, DC — International Catholic aid agency, Caritas International ( is working to coordinate Catholic worldwide emergency help to the victims of Cyclone Nygris which struck the country of Myanmar on May 3.

Current fears are that over 100,000 people in this Southeast Asian region may lose their lives due to the effects of the storm and the shortages of food and water. An official death toll of 22,500 has been reported with over a million and a half persons displaced by the storm. The population centers impacted by the storm number in range of 24,000,000.

Caritas Internationalis is coordinating the relief efforts of its 162 national members.

Catholic Relief Services in Baltimore ( is planning U.S. Catholic aid to the people of Myanmar, working closely with Caritas International and in particular CAFOD, (Britain) and Caritas Italiana, (Italy).

Michael Wiest, Executive Vice President of Catholic Relief Services, told FADICA that if CRS is granted permission to enter the impacted areas, the agency “is prepared to mount a sizable program of assistance.”

According to Mr. Wiest, CRS has been able to build up a formidable capacity in staffing and expertise in Aceh, Indonesia following its work in Southeast Asia for the victims of the 2004 tsunami which hit Indonesia, India, and Sri Lanka. CRS provided over $200 million in aid for humanitarian aid and rebuilding in the wake of that disaster and completed the construction of nearly thirty five hundred permanent homes.

Already CRS has received over $300,000 in donations from the Catholic foundation community and individual donors to mount relief efforts in Myanmar.

However, nearly one week after the devastating cyclone, supplies into the country were still being delayed and aid experts were being turned back as they arrived at the airport. The first of two major international aid shipments arrived Thursday, May 8, by aircraft from the United Nations World Food Program carrying high energy biscuits, water containers, food, and plastic sheets.

Altogether, by one count, 11 chartered planes with relief supplies have landed in Myanmar, a tiny amount for a disaster that the United Nations said has affected 1.5 million people.

Myanmar’s junta impounded two U.N. food aid shipments at Yangon airport on Friday, May 9, forcing a suspension of U.N. food aid for the moment.

Despite the desperate needs of the survivors, the country’s generals are adamant that only they will distribute the emergency aid. Nearly $40 million in cyclone aid has been pledged from around the world. But six days into a disaster that killed nearly 22,500 and left 41,000 missing, aid groups in Bangkok were still in the dark about when they might get visas. The United States, a strong critic of the Myanmar regime has nevertheless offered $3.25 million in cyclone aid, and is urging the generals to allow its disaster response teams inside.

Cyclone Nygris is the worst storm to hit Asia since 1991, when 143,000 people were killed in Bangladesh.

On May 6, Pope Benedict XVI sent a message to the Archbishop of Mandaly, Paul Grawng, President of the Catholic Bishops of Myanmar, with a plea to the international community “to respond with generous and effective relief” to the urgent needs in the region and conveying his personal “solidarity and concern”.