By Robin Gomes
The situation in Myanmar is critical with healthcare and other services practically non-existent in the wake of the protests and strikes against the military coup. Meanwhile, the military has re-ignited its conflicts with ethnic insurgent groups, spawning masses of displaced people. The crisis has taken a turn for the worse with a devastating 3rd wave of the Covid-19 pandemic amid an acute shortage of oxygen.
Renewed ethnic conflicts
Catholic dioceses in Kayah state in eastern Myanmar have been caring for thousands of civilians displaced by the fighting between the military and local militias in the aftermath of the February 1 military coup.
"In Kayah state and in our diocese of Loikaw, fighting between the military and the People Defense Forces (PDF) began in mid-May. They already caused more than 100,000 civilians to flee their homes,” said the administrator of Loikaw Diocese, Father Celso Ba Shwe.
The PDF is said to be the armed wing of the National Unity Government (NUG), a body claiming to be the legitimate government of Myanmar, that was formed in early May in response to the February 1 military coup that ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
In the conflict that has widened, Father Shwe said, “Many people have lost their lives, houses have been burned and churches destroyed.” In this situation, the Diocese of Loikaw has been providing humanitarian assistance to all the displaced since May,” he told the Vatican’s Fides news agency. Despite the enormous difficulties caused by the anti-coup protests, civil disobedience movement, strikes and armed clashes, Father Ba Shwe said the Dioceses of Loikaw and Pekhon have assisted 60,000 displaced people with food aid, shelter and health care, regardless of their religion and ethnic identity.
In Myanmar, where hospitals are empty and healthcare practically non-existent, because of the long-running civil disobedience and strike against the military junta, volunteers are going house-to-house to provide health care and collect bodies for burials.
Father Ba Shwe said services at the 500-bed government hospital in the state capital, Loikaw, are practically non-existent. In this situation, the Diocese of Loikaw has taken up the mission of providing whatever health services it can.
The former small clinic run by Karuna (Caritas), in the cathedral complex, has been converted into a hospital to provide health care to people from Kayah and parts of neighbouring Shan state. Due to the increase in the number of patients, all the buildings of the church have been converted into wards to receive patients. “Surgeons, doctors, nurses, health service technicians, volunteers and religious offer their free help in the following services in these charitable works," Father Ba Shwe said.
He explained they are offering special care to in-patients and out-patients with childcare services. Because of the lack of space at the Karuna clinic, they have opened a dispensary in Daungankha parish and another in Phruso. In the first week of June, the diocese opened another dispensary in Dorokhu village, where there are about 7,000 internally displaced persons who have taken refuge.
The third wave and oxygen
The administrator of Loikaw Diocese expressed grave concern over the 3rd wave of the pandemic, which has been spreading fast since the end of June. An acute shortage in the supply of oxygen is hitting people hard. He said in the entire State of Kayah there is only one medical oxygen plant. “The need for life-saving oxygen increases every day,” he said, “and an additional oxygen production and supply facility is crucial to saving the lives of the ethnic communities of Kayah.” He pointed out the military, which controls the Health Ministry, has no plan to increase the production of the life-saving gas.
In an appeal on Myanmar’s Martyrs Day, July 19, Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon bemoaned that “day and night our people wait for oxygen in crowded streets”.” The cardinal estimates at least 20 per cent of the population and around 90 per cent of the towns have been infected. “It is not apocalypse as yet”, but he warned, “if there is no conversion of hearts, many thousands will be buried in the coming months”. He called on the military and all parties to end all violence and fighting and join hands in fighting their common enemy, the virus.
To salvage the situation, Father Ba Shwe said they have formed a municipal committee to build an oxygen supply facility. Loikaw Diocese has agreed to bear a part of the expenses of the $190,000 project. The priest said they will raise the funds locally and will also ask foreign donors for help.
Catholic dioceses across the nation have been doing likewise in reaching out to the suffering people. (Source: Fides)