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Willie Nelson’s Myanmar Disaster Relief Challenge

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It all started with a short e-mail from Willie Nelson that said “HEY LES, WHAT CAN WE DO FOR MYANMAR CYCLONE VICTIMS? – THANKS WILLIE” That’s all it took. Just 12 short words, but when the legendary Willie Nelson himself asks for a favor, who is going to say no? Certainly not Les Barber.

A friend and business associate of Derek Miller and Willie Nelson, Les answered the call to aid by putting his vast network of contacts and tremendous powers of schmoozing (and believe me, the man can schmooze with the best of ‘em) to good use. He started a chain reaction of relief efforts by appealing to everyone he knows (which is apparently…well everyone) to join the desperately needed relief efforts for the people of Myanmar.

Organizations and people that that have jumped on board so far include Willie Nelson’s Water from Air and Wataire International, Da Kine Natural Spring Water, Media eBlast, Samaritan’s Purse and of course, Willie Nelson, Derek Miller and friends.

The first project in the works is Willie Nelson and Wataire International’s plan to send “two CI2500 Atmospheric Water Generators to the people of Myanmar. These machines produce a combined output of 1400 gallons of clean, fresh, potable drinking water that can save 2800 lives daily.” These water generators can produce clean, safe drinking water from the atmosphere while simultaneously purifying the air.

CI 2500 Another offer of water relief comes from John Teeter and Diane Hawkes of Da Kine Natural Spring Water out of Drayton Valley Alberta. The company has been in contact with aid organizations such as Earth Justice as well as CFB Edmonton, movement operations. They are offering to send as many 18.9 Littre bottles of water as can be shipped for the relief efforts.

There in lies one of the many challenges of disaster relief. At first glance it seems simple enough. A terrible Cyclone leaves millions of people in need of clean water, food and shelter. A few kind hearted individuals and organizations decide to pitch in and donate bottled water and a water generating machine to help the victims. Sounds simple right? But getting aid to those in need is a logistical nightmare that requires super human feats of organization and relentless determination.

The kind of determination and faith that Les Barber shows in his appeals for help, “We are talking to Samaritan's Purse (the aid organization headed by Franklin Graham – Billy Graham's eldest son) and several others (Care, Oxfam, Joel Osteen CDN and the US Government and more) There is dialogue every day and we are optimistic. We are also still seeking help from Individuals, groups and Corporations with Logistical, Monetary, Goods and/or Services help, they can go through Willie Nelson's Water From Air website."

Les has offered me just a small glimpse of the labor involved in coordinating relief efforts. Judging from the mountain of e-mails I’ve gotten in the last two days, I’ve come to the conclusion that people like Les Barber never sleep.

In the case of Myanmar, just trying to get donations into the country is a difficult challenge, much less getting it distributed to the victims. The trouble of course stems from Myanmar’s ruling Military Junta and its utter distrust of most foreigners who have criticized its record of human rights abuses. Consequently, although the regime has slowly begun to accept donations, it insists on handling all of the distribution.

The Junta’s self imposed isolation has made even getting accurate figures difficult. The regime acknowledges a death toll of 43,000 however UN and Red Cross officials estimate that the numbers are well over 100,000 victims and rising. It is also estimated that only 270,000 people have been reached by aid while over 2 million men, women and children remain in dire need of clean water, food and shelter.

Whatever the figures are, one fact is certain – the situation is desperate and the world cannot simply turn its’ back on the people of Myanmar.

That is why despite the challenge, negotiations will continue until they successfully get atmospheric water generators and aid to the people who need it. Willie Nelson and friends are determined to get clean potable drinking water and aid to the victims of cyclone Nargis.

Willie Nelson, Derek Miller and friends are also planning to hold benefit concerts to raise funds for the disaster relief efforts. Tentative dates include July 4th 2008 at Willie's Place (Bio-Diesel Truck Stop, Concert Hall Restaurant Shops, and Radio Station) in Carl’s Corner Texas. A second show is planned for 'The Backyard' in Austin Texas sometime in October. The exact date is to be announced.

The people of Myanmar are the innocent victims of a natural disaster. Aside from the immediate need for disaster relief, help will also be required to rebuild their homes and their lives. Monetary donations on behalf of the people of Myanmar can be made through Samaritan's Purse website.

There is an old saying that goes “there but by the grace of God go I”. You don’t have to believe in God or even be particularly spiritual to appreciate the absolute truth of that statement. Anyone of us could end up being the victim of a disaster, be it man made or natural. As citizens of the global village we all have a duty to help our neighbors in need.

The CBC website is the source of information for statistics on number of cyclone victims in Myanmar. All other information comes from Les Barber and the websites for Wataire International, Willie Nelson's Water From Air and Samaritan's Purse. 

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About Nathalie Vanderheyden