American Jewish World Service (AJWS) Providing Aid to Burma (Myanmar) Cyclone Victims

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International Development Group Taps Existing Network of Local Partners; Funds Delivery of Food, Water, Shelter, Clothing and Funeral/Cremation Services

Our partners are already doing heroic work getting relief to isolated populations inside the country, and we are focused on making sure they have the resources to continue - despite the obstacles they face.

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American Jewish World Service (AJWS) has established a fund to support short-term disaster relief and long-term community development efforts in Burma (Myanmar), which was ravaged last week by Cyclone Nargis. The category four storm hit the country's Rangoon Division and Irrawaddy Delta, killing a conservatively estimated 34,273 people. At least 40,000 people are reported missing and up to 1 million people are homeless, according to the United Nations. Cyclone Nargis wiped out most of the homes in the Irrawaddy Delta region, cut off electricity, contaminated local water supplies and flooded vulnerable low-lying coastline areas. The combination of flooding, collapsed roads, landslides and the destruction of much of the country's already-poor infrastructure is hampering relief efforts.

Ninety-five percent of the money collected by AJWS--a Jewish organization dedicated to fighting poverty, hunger and disease among people of the developing world, regardless of race, religion or nationality--will be used to support the work of local grassroots development organizations with which it already has strong relationships. With AJWS's assistance, these organizations will be able to continue providing food, water, cooking equipment, shelter, clothing and health services to those victims of Cyclone Nargis most in need.

Funds will also be used to provide cremation and funeral services for the victims of Cyclone Nargis--this is essential in allowing people to treat the bodies of their loved ones in accordance with their respective religious faiths as well as in preventing the spread of disease and protecting water supplies from further contamination. People can make contributions online at https://donate.ajws.org/03/burma_cyclone.

AJWS has been funding grassroots community-building organizations along the Thailand border of Burma (Myanmar) since 2002. Several of these partners are now facilitating small-scale relief efforts in communities, primarily in the Irrawaddy Delta, which do not have access to other sources of emergency aid.

For security purposes, AJWS is unable to identify those groups whose relief efforts it is funding.

In addition to the physical and logistical hurdles in providing relief, international efforts have been complicated further by the ruling military junta's resistance in allowing foreign relief into the country. On May 9, the United Nations briefly suspended relief supplies after the junta seized U.N. food and equipment donations it had already sent into Burma (Mynanmar). The first U.S. Aid flight finally landed in the country some nine days after the disaster struck, carrying supplies including mosquito nets, blankets and water.

"This region is poorly networked and difficult to access under 'normal' circumstances'," said AJWS President Ruth W. Messinger. "With phone and electricity so rare and with the government's obstruction of international emergency aid, it is even more vital to have a strong grassroots network on the ground, partners who know how to access the most remote villages, identify the needs and deliver the relief."

Messinger added: "Our partners are already doing heroic work getting relief to isolated populations inside the country, and we are focused on making sure they have the resources to continue - despite the obstacles they face."

The junta has a history of violently suppressing human rights, persecuting minorities and cracking down on the the pro-democracy movement. Recently the junta proposed a constitution legitimizing its military rule and it has insisted on going forward with a national referendum despite the devastation. It has threatened to imprison anybody who openly criticizes the draft constitution and has made the text available exclusively to citizens who can afford a highly priced copy.

AJWS has been actively engaging the U.S. government and the international community on issues related to human rights in Burma (Myanmar). The organization is calling on Congress to accelerate final passage of legislation strengthening economic sanctions on Burma (Myanmar). It is also appealing to the Senate to pass a resolution rejecting the referendum and urging the United Nations Security Council not to accept the referendum as legitimate. Regarding international emergency aid, AJWS is asking President Bush to urge countries with influence on the junta, such as China, The Philippines and Singapore, to press for an end to all impediments to aid.

About AJWS
American Jewish World Service (AJWS) is an international development organization motivated by Judaism's imperative to pursue justice. AJWS is dedicated to alleviating poverty, hunger and disease among the people of the developing world regardless of race, religion or nationality. Through grants to grassroots organizations, volunteer service, advocacy and education, AJWS fosters civil society, sustainable development and human rights for all people, while promoting the values and responsibilities of global citizenship within the Jewish community.

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Josh Berkman
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