Thursday, May 08, 2008

Cyclone devastation and the aid crisis in Burma

It is growing increasingly apparent that the extent of the death toll and damage in Burma from Cyclone Nargis is getting much worse – horrendous, in fact. It is certainly far worse that the Burmese military dictatorship can either handle or is prepare to admit.

So far, Burma's official death toll has jumped from 15,000-odd to about 22,000, but aid agencies are predicting it may reach 100,000, and at least 40,000 people are thought to be missing. Hundreds of thousands are thought to be homeless as a result of the devastation.
Exacerbating the problem is the military's refusal to allow international aid agencies to freely enter the politically and socially isolated country to both assess the crisis and get aid to those who have been hurt, made homeless or otherwise affected by the storm.

The unpleasant but terribly urgent job of retrieving dead bodies – especially from the extensive river system of the Irrawaddy delta – must be done quickly if they are to prevent a massive outbreak of cholera and typhoid and other water-borne diseases – one of the big risks now, besides starvation and thirst. Electricity failure has compromised fresh food storage and there isn't enough clean drinking water going around. I heard on the news last night than aid deliveries of rice had begun arriving yesterday, but I couldn't help but wonder how the hungry were going to cook the rice when there wasn't clean water and precious little in the way of dry fuel.

This is where the infrastructure expertise and equipment of international aid and disaster relief
agencies – especially the Red Cross – come into play: besides medical equipment and food, they have the water purifiers, electricity generators, portable cooking stoves, canvas and plastic for tents and shelters and, as importantly, sanitation equipment (so the already contaminated water doesn't get worse). What is troubling is that the Burmese military is dragging its heels in letting them in.

I cannot understand such a callous regime with so little regard for the lives of its own people and
is so hell-bent on defending its own pride and power – and insisting with continuing with its charade of a constitutional referendum.

What is heartening is news that the Burmese people are throwing their energies into the job of helping each other, especially in the clean-up. One report on the radio this morning spoke of Burmese Red Cross volunteers, themselves victims of the devastation, are putting on the Red Cross vests and going out to help. They need to be congratulated and supported. They need help.

I have found that BBC Online's coverage of the turmoil in Burma far more effective, extensive and thorough than ABC Online's – despite Burma's proximity to us, and the large number of Burmese refugees now settled here in Australia, the ABC hasn't managed to make such a major humanitarian disaster a priority for its online coverage (it is heavily reliant on audio and video pulled from the rest of the broadcaster's coverage, compared to the specially developed text content on the BBC's site). Pity.

If you want to keep track of the relief effort, the BBC Online is publishing the diary of Andrew Kirkwood, Save the Children's 'man in Burma'. They are also publishing eyewitness reports of the devastation (Warning, the reports are quite disturbing), and background analysis of the cyclone and whether the military are responding adequately to it.

In the aftermath of the Boxing Day Tsunami, as with a number of other recent disasters in the region, there were a large number of blogs and websites set up to track, report, and pool news of developments in the relief efforts, and to help channel people's desire to help. I'm going to look out for these in relation to Burma's tragedy and I would appreciate any tips or links for these in the comments. I will keep following this as closely as I can.

Meanwhile, flickrites
MaiNaSukhumvit, luisrene and Azmil77 have photos of Cyclone Nargis's trail of destruction.

[The image above is of the peak of the storm in Yangon, witnessed by

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At May 08, 2008 8:08 pm, Blogger phil said...

Mark - in a previous life I was Australian consul in Burma. The extent of devasattion and suffering doesn't surprise me, knowing the state and extent of infrastructure.

That the military has obstructed help is also no surprise - their current lives rely on repression and theft undertaken since 1962. Too much at risk to lose and they view the civilian population much as a slave owner would view his chattels.

At May 14, 2008 2:34 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

great site,...we just cant beleive most of these releif agencies how they wont respond,..example we are a small company offering to send into burma a special survival portable stove at factory cost non profit.
this stove saves lives it produces a 60cm high flame on high setting therfore it warms lights cooks entertains and zaps insects like mosquitoes, runs in rain mud water snow under tarps tents and out in the open streets,.. the stove takes care of famlies with children also it runs on a universal fuel kerosene, not one releif agency is interested, we have the mfgr close in china ready to produce as many as needed.
cole of australia,


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