The Battle for Burma
May 14, 2008 1 Comment
While the current scope of government-facilitated death and destruction fails to move the world to further action than what the Burma junta permits, the situation is predicted as about to change dramatically for the worse.
From the Guardian on May 14, 2008:
Weather experts said there was a good chance the tropical depression in the Bay of Bengal could develop into a “significant” cyclone within the next 24 hours.
There is no doubt at this point that Burma is contributing the scope of the crisis:
Gordon Brown today described the crisis as having touched “the whole conscience of the world”.
He said that, while more relief planes had been allowed into the country, the situation was still “not good enough”.
“A natural disaster in Burma, by the actions of a despicable regime, has been turned into a … manmade catastrophe,” he said.
China is currently responding to its own natural disaster, demonstrating what a military can do to reach survivors in devastated areas.
From the Associated Press on May 13, 2008:
Soldiers hiking over landslide-blocked roads reached the epicenter of China’s devastating earthquake Tuesday, pulling bodies and a few survivors from collapsed buildings.
China has been a major responder to the Burma crisis, but now it sounds like it can hardly handle the destruction caused by its recent earthquake.
From The Telegraph on May 14, 2008:
Today China poured 50,000 troops into Sichuan in an attempt to find any remaining survivors of the earthquake among the mud, rubble and tangled buildings.
But they had to battle to get through landslides which had cut off Wenchuan county, and poor weather conditions continued to hamper aid efforts.
The situation in China makes it clear that military involvement in humanitarian assistance for disasters of this magnitude is necessary:
Trucks were beginning to travel up the main roads carrying boxes of noodles and biscuits, only to be stormed by desperate crowds. “They had better set up a distribution system, or we will be stealing what we can,” said one man.
Reports from the ground in Burma suggest the situation is far worse than it may appear in the news. Via Slog, this is part of an email from a witness in the area:
[A co-worker] decided to go check on the family of a close family friend in one of the villages seriously hit by the cyclone. His own supplies were limited, but he wanted to take things to share with the victims of the storm. He gathered together some bottled water, a bag of rice and an old quilt that his family was no longer using.
When he reached his destination he started looking for his friend. He came upon an old woman shivering. He reached the quilt and offered it to her. She shook her head and said, “No, thank you.”
Quite perplexed the man pushed the quilt toward her and said, “Auntie (a local term of endearment), you are shivering. You need this blanket more than I do, please take it.” Again, the old woman shook her head refusing his offer.
Totally confused the man asked her why. She said, “Two days after the storm the men in uniforms came to our village with blankets, food and water. We accepted their gifts and posed for their cameras. When they were done taking pictures they took back the food, the water, and the blankets and drove away. I do not think that I can face such disappointment again.”
update: Wonkette offers a concise summary of recent events:
Chinese officials respond swiftly to the earthquake that has killed at least 15,000 people. International aid is flowing in; they have scaled back a domestic leg of the Olympic torch relay; and in general they are not acting like complete buffoons. [Washington Post]
In contrast, every day in Burma brings a fresh outrage. Military rulers have allowed in 160 international aid workers from neighboring countries to address a calamity that displaced 1.5 million people and left 100,000 dead or missing. [Washington Post]
update: From the BBC on May 14, 2008:
The UN has sharply increased its estimate of those severely affected by Burma’s cyclone to 2.5m people.
The figure was revised up from the 1.5m previously thought to be in need, following the storm 12 days ago.
update: From the BBC on May 15, 2008:
The [Burma] regime is stopping most foreign aid workers already there from leaving Rangoon to go to affected areas.
More than 10 days after Cyclone Nargis struck the Irrawaddy delta, the BBC’s Natalia Antelava, who reached the area, says it is still completely cut off from the outside world and there is little evidence of things getting better.
She says soldiers were blocking the roads but fishermen took her to affected areas by boat. One said he wanted the world to know what was happening.
… Burma insisted again on Thursday it was capable of coping with the crisis.
The state media New Light of Myanmar newspaper said the people “will not rely too much on international assistance and will reconstruct the nation on a self-reliance basis”.
update: from the BBC on May 16, 2008:
On a trip to the Delta this week, the BBC’s Natalia Antelava saw muddy river banks lined with white, swollen bodies, and found survivors with barely enough rice to live on.
A Reuters team travelling to Kunyangon, around 100km (60 miles) south-west of Rangoon, found rows of beggars stretching for miles on either side of a road.
Men, women and children stood in the mud and rain, hands clasped together in supplication at the occasional passing aid vehicle.
update: from the Associated Press on May 17, 2008:
… a French navy ship that arrived Saturday off Myanmar’s shores loaded with food, medication and fresh water was given the now familiar red light, a response that France’s U.N. ambassador, Jean-Maurice Ripert, called “nonsense.”
“We have small boats which could allow us to go through the delta to most of the regions where no one has accessed yet,” he said a day earlier at U.N. headquarters. “We have small helicopters to drop food, and we have doctors.”
The USS Essex, an amphibious assault ship, and its battle group have been waiting to join in the relief effort as well. U.S. Marine flights from their makeshift headquarters in Utapao, Thailand, continued Saturday – bringing the total to 500,000 pounds of aid delivered – but negotiations to allow helicopters to fly directly to the disaster zone were stalled.
… Britain’s Ministry of Defense said it had dispatched a Royal Navy frigate to the area “as a contingency.” The HMS Westminster broke away from an exercise with the French and Indian navies, a ministry spokesman said, speaking anonymously in line with military policy.
from the BBC on May 19, 2008:
Security has been stepped up around the Rangoon [area] in recent days – the aim to keep foreigners away from the Irrawaddy Delta, devastated by the cyclone.
… News had reached the city of the foreign warships just off the coast, packed with aid supplies, waiting for permission from Burma’s rulers to come in.
“They want to help me but our government tells them to keep out,” said the man.
“I am so sorry to hear that. I think they must come to our country by international law, by force.”
… roadblocks and checkpoints cannot stop information getting out of the delta to Burma’s people.
We bought a DVD on a street corner in Rangoon, footage filmed on camcorders by ordinary citizens.
update: from the Associated Press on May 20, 2008:
YANGON, Myanmar – Myanmar slowly relented to international pressure to accept more outside help, but state media said Wednesday that the government will not allow U.S. warships and helicopters poised off its shores to deliver aid to cyclone victims.
… Myanmar’s xenophobic leaders have long feared an invasion by the United States, moving their capital to a remote area of central Myanmar equipped with bunkers.
update: from the BBC on May 20, 2008:
The UK National Health Service emergency medicine consultant says 5,000 sq km (1,900 sq miles) of land in the region remain under water.