After the Burmese death toll from Cyclone Nargis was substantially upgraded — to at least 10,000 killed –the Burmese government finally went public to say it would accept international aid.
However, figuring out the logistics of providing help will not be easy. There have been doubts about exactly how open the Burmese regime really is to foreign assistance, says The Telegraph. “Diplomats asked ministers whether visas would be available to relief workers and whether duty would be waived on relief supplies. The ministers could give no such commitment.”
With villages flattened and power and water supplies cut off, survivors are increasingly at risk of developing deadly diseases. If the death toll estimates are correct, the storm is the worst natural disaster in Asia since the 2004 tsunami.
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This has happened just a few days before Burma’s junta was due to “conduct a bogus referendum to justify a new constitution entrenching their brutal rule”, writes The Economist, which notes the irony of a government that can run a country with an iron fist but hasn’t constructed the infrastructure to deal with a natural disaster.
With the military slow to respond to the disaster, some are even suggesting that citizens might use the constitutional referendum to retaliate.
The normally press shy First Lady Laura Bush was quick to address a news conference. Promising aid to Burma she also accused the junta of failing to warn its citizens of the danger they faced, reports The Telegraph “Although they were aware of the threat, Burma’s state-run media failed to issue a timely warning to citizens in the storm’s path,” she said. She also said it would be “odd” if the country went ahead with Saturday’s planned referendum.
Global Voices has a good wrap of the situation.
An opportunity for progress. If Burma’s rulers have accepted that this disaster is too big for the country to handle on its own, and that relieving the suffering of their stricken people should take precedence over their hermit instincts, this is progress of a kind. The decision to open the country a crack is still progress, even if the response is born of fear for the regime’s survival. An inadequate response to a natural disaster can spell danger to those in charge. Harvard students and Oxfam America joined international humanitarian groups today to mobilize aid for Burma, hopeful that the country’s military junta will allow them to rush relief to cyclone victims. — The Independent leader
Junta is acting out of self-preservation, not compassion. “This country is a volcano,” a dissident intellectual told me in Mandalay in March. “It could erupt at any time.” And it is always at moments of dramatic crisis that the Burmese people’s patience snaps. Better, perhaps, the generals may have decided, to bring in foreign aid quickly to avoid an outbreak of violent disorder. The change of mind could have dramatic consequences. After 2004’s tsunami, the Indonesian government welcomed foreign aid – and the Indonesian army looked on aghast as the military of Australia and the United States flew incessant missions in and out of the stricken city. The unexpected upshot: the end of the guerrilla war between the Free Aceh Movement and the government, and a peace agreement which still holds. — Peter Popham, Independent
The awful irony. Myanmar’s security forces are quick on the scene and ruthlessly efficient when it comes to suppressing protests such as last year’s monk-led demonstrations. But they are likely to be deeply inadequate at organising rescue operations now that the people need their help. The job will thus largely fall to international aid agencies. The government, sensibly, has said it will welcome foreign aid, showing a small glint of humanity and gaining some credit from the outside world. However, it is wise never to overestimate the common sense or underestimate the callousness of this, one of the world’s most paranoid regimes. It remains unclear if the government is willing to allow in extensive aid. On Monday night, as the extent of the devastation was revealed, the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) said the government had given aid agencies a “cautious green light” to start sending help. — The Economist
More bad news for a beleagured people. According to DVB, entire new townships, which for the most part consist of flimsy wooden and galvanised iron houses, have been seriously damaged and there are no authorities or emergency crews to be seen. Coming on the back of last year’s price increases, there are reports of rapid further rises in costs (and here) and residents fear imminent widespread hunger and water problems unless there is international assistance. — Rule of Lords (Myanmar)
A resident’s view. All the small houses collapsed. All the power lines collapsed. They collapsed on top of the houses. Trees were uprooted all over the places. All the streets were blocked and people cleared them the streets, on their own initiative and cut them into pieces so that cars could go through. Then, when we went to other places, we had to turn back as some streets were blocked, and we had to travel on other routes. All the streets were crowded with people – it looks like a wreck of a city. — Democratic Voice of Burma
Will secretiveness worsen the toll? Let’s see if U.N. agencies and the International Committee of the Red Cross, which wisely stocked up on food and other supplies ahead of the storm, will be allowed to hire the personnel and other organizations they may need to distribute the aid, whether there are enough vehicles available for transport and whether roads, phone systems and other infrastructure slow down any operation. The junta’s secretiveness and wariness of outsiders may take an even bigger toll on the Burmese people. — Muddy Notebook