Tragedy in Myanmar. Mass starvation caused by a plague of rats.

Just yesterday, the World Health Organization announced that the swine flu outbreak was now a pandemic. While we now much about the danger this outbreak poses, there are deadly threats that have, so far, gone under the radar. From Food for the Hungry comes this report about the Chin people in Myanmar:

About 200 villages in the Chin State in Western Myanmar are suffering from extreme food shortages due to a rat infestation. The phenomenon known as “maudam” occurs about once every 50 years when flowering bamboo trees produce a fruit that nourishes the rat population. The last time it struck was in 1958, preceded by incidents in 1911 and 1862. Rats feed on the fruit, multiplying by the millions until the fruit supply disappears after which the rodents ravage local rice and corn crops.

Eyewitnesses report barren fields and empty seed bins. In addition, as many as 100 children and elderly have already died from malnutrition and of the 100,000 Chin people who remain, many are weak, thin and sick. Without intervention, the situation will only worsen.

Nova has produced a documentary for PBS that is good in getting an education on how the disaster has spread. Because this is happening in a nation most people can’t find on a map and isn’t worldwide, it may be hard to be moved. Yet, there is a need and an opportunity to put your faith into practice. Go here to help.

HT: Desiring God blog

Helping Africa: Is aid the only way — or the best way — to go?

dambisamoyoDambisa Moyo, who was born and raised in Zambia, holds degrees in economics from Oxford and Harvard. She has worked in the financial world for years and has written an important book called “Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working And How There Is A Better Way For Africa.” Moyo argues in her book that decades of government aid to Africa — more than $1 trillion — has not improved the lives of Africans but in fact made their lives worse.

For sure, there is not a consensus on whether the view she is advocating is the right one. Kevin Williamson, writing in NRO, says “Moyo deserves listening to; for the sake of a more sensible development policy.” On the other hand, Bono’s ONE Web site calls her views wrong and irresponsible.

It is important to note that Moyo is not calling for a cut in humanitarian aid, the kind that works to fight AIDS and HIV. But she says, however, that “the state of postwar development policy in Africa today and unflinchingly confronts one of the greatest myths of our time: that billions of dollars in aid sent from wealthy countries to developing African nations has helped to reduce poverty and increase growth.”

For those really interested in helping and not just through charity, one way is through organizations like Kiva. Kiva is a microfinance organization that lends to entrepeneurs in developing countries. What is microfinancing? From the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor:

Microfinance offers poor people access to basic financial services such as loans, savings, money transfer services and microinsurance. People living in poverty, like everyone else, need a diverse range of financial services to run their businesses, build assets, smooth consumption, and manage risks.

Poor people usually address their need for financial services through a variety of financial relationships, mostly informal. Credit is available from informal moneylenders, but usually at a very high cost to borrowers. Savings services are available through a variety of informal relationships like savings clubs, rotating savings and credit associations, and other mutual savings societies. But these tend to be erratic and somewhat insecure. Traditionally, banks have not considered poor people to be a viable market.

Different types of financial services providers for poor people have emerged – non-government organizations (NGOs); cooperatives; community-based development institutions like self-help groups and credit unions; commercial and state banks; insurance and credit card companies; telecommunications and wire services; post offices; and other points of sale – offering new possibilities.

These providers have increased their product offerings and improved their methodologies and services over time, as poor people proved their ability to repay loans, and their desire to save. In many institutions, there are multiple loan products providing working capital for small businesses, larger loans for durable goods, loans for children’s education and to cover emergencies. Safe, secure deposit services have been particularly well received by poor clients, but in some countries NGO microfinance institutions are not permitted to collect deposits.

Remittances and money transfers are used by many poor people as a safe way to send money home. Banking through mobile phones (mobile banking) makes financial services even more convenient, and safer, and enables greater outreach to more people living in isolated areas.
Financial services for poor people have proven to be a powerful instrument for reducing poverty, enabling them to build assets, increase incomes, and reduce their vulnerability to economic stress.

This same approach is being used in Iraq to help rebuild that country and, in fact, worldwide. Below is an interview with Moyo as she explains her thinking that went into the book.

Myanmar didn’t go away

Last week I posted about the tragedy in Myanmar and how, although reported on the by the media regularly, we tend to turn away from tragedies that occur out of our comfort area. Well, it’s still there and it still a major tragedy. I posted a link the American Red Cross, but there are several organizations out there reaching out to people who are needy.

\One such organization is a Michigan-based group called Christian Freedom International. This group’s mission is based on Hebrews 13:3, which says: “Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body.” Thousands upon thousands in Myanmar have been affected by the effects or Cyclone Nargis. Among those are the Karen Christians. Even among the suffering, these are singled out. This from CFI:

Residents in the Irawaddy Delta, which bore the brunt of the cyclone that tore through the country on May 3, 2008, are now claiming that the Burmese military is diverting aid from areas heavily populated by ethnic Karen villagers — a claim consistent with the government’s longstanding history of discriminatory practices against the Karen, the largest and mostly Christian minority ethnic group in the country.

So, for those who call themselves Christians, how does that make you feel? Bad? Uneasy? Something? How do you explain it to your children? Do you? Maybe there’s more you could do. Perhaps you might show them that a little sacrifice for the good of the body is really not a sacrifice but a way to honor God.

You want more examples? Perhaps you may want to consider the Macedonians from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (II Cor. 2:1,2 and 8 ) when he was taking aid to the starving believers in Jerusalem:

We want you to know brethren about the grace of God which has been shown in the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of liberality on their part . . . I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.

OK, you get the point. Go here to Christian Freedom International and see what you can do.