Friday, May 09, 2008

Burma disaster roundup

I trawled through a number of websites to find sources of information and insight into what is happening in Burma post the Cyclone Nargis disaster, and I made an effort to find out what other blogs and Burmese voices, especially from the region, are saying.

Also bearing in mind that the crucial issue now is how quickly the international emergency disaster relief can get into Burma and to the areas most in need, and the military's reluctance to ease their entry, I've also found some information from the aid and relief agencies.

The Burma Campaign (UK) have called for concerted international effort to force the Burmese junta to accept international aid. They are lobbying the British government, for one, to take a strong approach. They say:
"The United Nations has the power to authorise aid shipments to Burma even though the regime has not given permission. Yesterday the French government tried to secure a discussion on this at the Security Council, but it is believed to have been blocked by China and Russia.

“Every day of delay is costing lives,” said Mark Farmaner, Director of Burma Campaign UK. “If the regime won’t give permission for aid, the international community must deliver it anyway. We can’t stand by and let thousands more die.”
However the level of concern, verging on panic, over the junta's refusal to allow the free flow of aid, most sane international aid and Burmese democracy groups are, however, stopping short of calling for an all-out 'humanitarian' invasion of Burma a-la Somalia, if only just. Reason will prevail in this matter, I hope.

The Democratic Voice of Burma has an amazing gallery of photos of the damage in Rangoon, from which the photo above has been lifted. The level of damage in Rangoon is pretty bad, but Tim Costello of World Vision has reported on ABC Online that the city is beginning to put itself back together, as its citizens pick up the pieces.

columnist and blogger Awzar Thi, writing in Rule of Lords, reports that 90 per cent of the large trees in Rangoon are gone – uprooted or split and cracked. Besides the damage this has done to power lines, buildings and roads, this does not bode well for the future urban ecology of this major city. Awzar Thi has extensive coverage of the cyclone's devastation.

I found Rule of Lords via web correspondent Mong Palatino, who is blogging on the disaster at
Global Voices Online, the online aggregator of political and social blogging of the non-Western world. He has been tracking many more bloggers and websites reporting from either within Burma or from its neighbours. The region has many political bloggers, it seems. He has found a number of eyewitness reports as well, including this quite representative one:
In our house we were trapped when tress around the house fell over after 11 hours of strong winds at 200-240 knots. The mess is terrible everywhere, with all electricity down and no water for days.
With one million homeless and facing terrible conditions, hunger, thirst, exposure to the elements and risk of disease are the major challenges, and the aid efforts must reach them as soon as possible.

One of the most heartbreaking things I've learned is how the children and babies have been affected. According to a Save the Children media statement I found, 40 per cent of the dead are children. The young are at the highest risk of water borne diseases, and most feel the cold, thirst and hunger.

Save the Children's Burma director, who I mentioned in my previous post, is quoted in that statement saying:
“We know that some areas are still completely under salt water – some people have no drinking water or food. Unless assistance gets into those kinds of areas very soon, the death toll will keep rising. It is a race against time and now our priority has to be those who are left - we urgently need help to be able to reach the surviving children and families and deliver what we know they need.”
Medisans Sans Frontier's Australian division has set up a page on their website to provide updated information on what is happening in Burma and what they are doing as part of the efforts. Thankfully, MSF has had workers in Burma for many years now who could respond quickly to the disaster, but they are running out of human energy, resources and supplies, and are desperately waiting for the planes carrying relief supplies to be allowed into the country.

I trust MSF to do the right thing in terms of their aid efforts, their capacity to look after people, and how they use the money they raise through fundraising for their emergency efforts. They proved themselves many times over, including in responding to the Boxing Day Tsunami in the West Sumatra region.

You can find out more about what MSF are doing, inlcuding a video, here.

The Burmese people need the help and generosity of the international community. And out continued attention to ensure the military regime don't keep stifling the aid efforts. Leave me a comment if you know of other ways to help.

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