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Boro turns to grassroots aid for survivors in Myanmar

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As the official death toll of the Myanmar cyclone reached 78,000 this week, more city groups are coming forward to raise funds for the stricken country.

Myanmar's ruling military junta resisted foreign aid efforts for more than a week after the May 3 storm before finally agreeing to let neighboring countries coordinate relief actions.

The U.N. World Health Organization reported more than 130,000 people dead or missing, with another 19,000 injured, but Myanmar put the official death toll at far less.

Meanwhile, a Queens Burmese group organized a protest in front of the United Nations last week. Some one dozen Buddhist monks from Elmhurst meditated and prayed in front of the building last Thursday and Friday in a plea for the worldwide organization to provide humanitarian aid to the cyclone victims.

Though the announcement that Myanmar would allow its neighbors to help with the relief effort, Moe Chan, president of the Elmhurst-based National Council of the Union of Burma, was skeptical it would make a difference.

"What they usually like to do is control everything on their own and they want to take everything in their hands," he said. "That's the type of regime we face."

Grassroots aid efforts have been the most successful so far, Chan said, urging New Yorkers to donate money to aid organizations connected to the region.

"The most effective way to support those victims is by getting volunteers from the surrounding areas to donate food, medicine and whatever basic necessities they can deliver by trucks," he said.

Aye Aye Thant, president of the U Thant Institute, a Connecticut-based nonprofit that promotes the ideals of former U.N. Secretary General Maha Tharay Sithu U Thant, said more than 200 temporary relief camps such as monasteries, pagodas and schools are operating in townships U.N. officials visited. The former secretary general and his son, Aye Aye, are Burmese.

"Displaced people are currently staying in very congested shelters (and) suffer from lack of clean drinking water and latrines, which clearly indicates a risk of water-borne diseases," Thant said in a statement. "Clean drinking water, latrines, tarpaulins, (and) essential drug kits are immediate needs of the people."

The organization is accepting money donations at its Web site, www.uthantinstitute.org. The Elmhurst monks, affiliated with the International Burmese Monks Organization, have turned to avaaz.org, a site founded by the global civic advocacy group Res Publica, to raise money for their relief efforts.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

Updated 6:58 pm, October 10, 2011
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