This assembly looks at how the two countries have responded to the disastrous cyclone and earthquake, and how foreign aid workers are trying to help
Scenes from Burma
(NB Burma is also known as ‘Myanmar’.)
When things go badly wrong, we say, ‘It’s a complete disaster!’ and, almost always, we’re exaggerating. But, in the last two weeks, two different disasters have happened in two different countries. These are two natural disasters – the term we use to describe disasters brought about nature (rather than man-made).
In Burma, a very, very strong wind called a cyclone has destroyed thousands of villages, leaving over a million people homeless and many thousands dead.
In China, an earthquake near the city of Chengdu, shook the ground, causing thousands of people to be killed by falling buildings, and many, many more, too afraid to return to their homes.
An earthquake is caused by giant areas of land – many bigger than whole countries – moving across the planet. When this happens, the ground shakes, and roads and buildings are damaged.
In the Sichuan province of central China, buildings have collapsed, and many people are still being rescued from the rubble.
Many people are camping outside in the rain, using sheets of plastic, because they are too scared to go home incase their homes collapse. Others are sleeping in their cars.
People aren’t able to leave because the police are stopping people from driving. Many roads are unsafe and, those that are still working, are reserved for emergency vehicles and the army, which are arriving to coordinate the relief effort.
This allows cars, vans and trucks carrying aid supplies and rescue equipment to speed through the damaged cities and other areas devastated by the earthquake.
Although the situation seems chaotic, the government has organised emergency services, and has brought giant earthmovers into the worst hit areas.
Some people are trying to make the best of the bad situation, cooking outside on temporary stoves and making shelters out of umbrellas. The Chinese government has said it will accept international help to cope with the earthquake, and thanks the countries offering to send aid.
The government response was praised as ‘swift and very efficient’ by the International Federation of the Red Cross.
Things have been very different in Burma. On 2 May a cyclone hit the coast of Burma and devastated the country. The speed of the wind was over 90 miles per hour as the terrible storm ripped through the country’s biggest city of Rangoon and its population of six million people. The deadly storm raged for over ten hours – homes were flattened, larger buildings ripped apart, trees uprooted and electric power lines fell down. In some parts of the countryside, ninety-five per cent of all homes were destroyed.
So many people have been killed that we don’t really know the true numbers – over a million people have been made homeless. The victims have an urgent need for clean drinking water because the flood water caused by the storm is dirty and unsafe to drink. They need food and shelter, and the threat of disease is very real to those who have survived one disaster already.
But help just isn’t getting to these people fast enough. Why? Because the government has been very reluctant to accept help from other countries, even though it is struggling to help its own people.
The government of Burma is run by their army. For many years it has been wary of strangers and hasn’t wanted foreigners to enter the country. It’s very sad, because the world has much to offer, and Burma isn’t rich.
Around the world, many countries have offered aid to Burma in its hour of need, but Burma’s government has been very slow to accept offers of help. Why have they done this? Perhaps it’s a bit like someone coming to your house and telling you what to do and that you’re doing things wrong. You wouldn’t like that, would you? And nor does the Burmese government.
In the last few days, more international aid workers have been allowed to go into Burma to help, and we can just hope that the Burmese government continues to accept aid and support from countries which simply want to do something to help the poor people who have been so badly affected by the cyclone.
In this country, we are very lucky that our mild weather and temperate climate rarely bring us extreme weather like they’ve suffered in Burma. We’re even luckier that Britain doesn’t have the violent earthquakes suffered by people in other countries.
While we can’t stop natural disasters from happening, we can help agencies like the Red Cross to respond to emergencies by supporting their fundraising and appeals. We can help by caring.
And, to end on a good piece of news, at the Giant Panda Research Centre in the town of Wolong in China, the eighty pandas have all survived the earthquake.
Our Father, We pray today for the people of Burma and China who have survived these two terrible natural disasters. Please help their governments to bring them aid as quickly as possible, and we pray that you will bring peace to the hearts of people who have lost their friends and family. Amen.
Natural disasters can be terrible and deadly, but at least these situations can be made better by people helping each other. War is a manmade disaster that need never happen.
Click here to find out more about the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross
To find out more about both disasters and how you can help, go to the Disasters Emergency Committee
This e-bulletin issue was first published in May 2008
About the author: Gerald Haigh