More than 100 people have been killed and thousands more displaced by monsoon flooding in Myanmar, one of the poorest nations in Asia. With government relief efforts faltering, the Catholic Church is stepping in to offer help. “The situation is distressing…particularly in the most affected lower belt of Haka and Kalay dioceses in the Chin territory,” said Fr. Leo Mang, head of social communications of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar. Fr. Mang told CNA that the Catholic Church is working through local emergency units as well as “Caritas,” the bishops’ social arm, to reach out to victims and offer aid. In the last month, torrential rains have created landslides and floods in Myanmar, also known as Burma. The current situation in the country varies by region. In the Diocese of Hakha, landslides resulting from heavy rain have washed away many houses and other buildings. Some chapels remain submerged. Residents of more elevated regions are seeing some relief, as water levels begin to subside. However, much of the water has now reached delta areas such as the lower Myanmar Irrawaddy division, and there are fears that dams and reservoirs might burst. “People have been evacuated to safer zones, and many are accommodated in parish camps,” said Fr. Bosco Saw, head of the Biblical Commission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar. “People are in a fearful situation in the Irrawaddy division, and we need international help.” Fr. Saw warned that government response has been slow. The local government was not prepared for a disaster of this scale, he explained, and the hilly terrain has hindered relief efforts. Myanmar has declared a national state of emergency and has appealed for international assistance to help with flood relief. The slow government response, coupled with the country’s poverty, has particularly affected efforts to the poor and those in less-developed tribal areas. According to local reports, more than 100 people have died. In addition, at least 375 houses have been destroyed over 1 million people have been affected by the flooding, making it the worst natural disaster since a major cyclone hit in 2008, the priest said. He added that communication is poor in the current conditions, and there could be many more unreported deaths. The Catholic Church has stepped up to help with relief efforts. A volunteer task force has been formed for emergency response in the Chin belt, one of the poor territories in the country that is home to a large concentration of tribal ethnic groups. Fr. Mang said that the Catholic centers in Kalay are receiving many people who have been affected by the rising waters. The Catholic community is “gathering donations in the parishes for clothes, food, and medicine to be sent to the flood victims.” In addition to food and clothing, there are numerous medical challenges facing displaced persons, stressed Fr. Saw. Poor sanitary conditions have led to concern over the spread of fever, diarrhea and other diseases associated with contaminated water, as well as mosquito-borne illnesses such as malaria and dengue fever. “The situation is beyond our strength, and we put our trust and everything in the hands of God,” said Fr. Saw. “Our Catholic population in the country is only around 1.2 percent of population but our faith is strong.” Sister Elizabeth Joseph, a member of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, is helping coordinate relief efforts with volunteers. Using small boats, rescuers are trying to reach people in the isolated interior of the country to provide relief and medical aid. “We need the mercy of God,” she told CNA. “We need people holding hands to reach out to the victims. Everyone young and old, rich and poor. Compassionate hearts are wanted, helping hands, prayers…May the Lord have mercy on us.”
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