Disaster in Burma: Poetry, pleas, and inept politicians

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The death toll and suffering in Burma continues to rise in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis (Urdu for daffodil). The situation is dire.


Aid has barely trickled into one of the world’s most isolated and impoverished countries, although experts feared it would be too little to cope with the aftermath of Nargis, which left up to 100,000 feared dead and one million homeless.

Witnesses saw little evidence of a relief effort under way in the hard-hit Irrawaddy delta region.

“We’ll starve to death, if nothing is sent to us,” said Zaw Win, a 32-year-old fisherman who waded through floating corpses to find a boat for the two-hour journey to Bogalay, a town where the government said 10,000 people were killed.

We need food, water, clothes and shelter,” he told a Reuters reporter.

Source

This poem by a Burmese buddhist monk summarizes everything we need to know.

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Let the world Help our people!

each day we pray

each morning we hope

that the dead and destroyed areas saved

we are sure that the world can help

a UN plane arrived after two days delay

why are you making of yourselves as devils

obstructing help needed by people

what are you afraid of

in this kind of catastrophe

we do not think about ourselves

we think for all

for the victims

there shall be no borders

visas shall not needed

for helpful samaritans

with equipments and medicines

do not be a control freak

show the world that you are noble

nobler than the lady

who asked for sanctions

this is not business nor for power

this is humanity

forget about her

show the world that you are a real man

a real soldier

a real army

who wish for the goodness for its people.

the world is flat

for anyone who helps

welcome all

for their kindness

International aid is starting to trickle in

World Food Program spokesman Paul Risley in Bangkok said a Thai cargo plane delivered seven tons of high-energy biscuits and a U.N. chartered flight from Brindisi, Italy arrived in Yangon with water, plastic sheeting, medical kits and other equipment.

He said one other charter flight in Bangkok was awaiting landing clearance permission and a fourth flight was expected to leave from Dubai on Thursday.

The Red Cross/Red Crescent confirmed its first aid plane took off from Kuala Lumpur, carrying six tonnes of shelter materials.

“It’s a modest amount, but we hope once we established it, others will follow,” an official said. “Another eight tonnes of shelter goods will leave on a Thai commercial flight tonight.”

Medicins sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders), which has 1,000 people in Myanmar, said it was ferrying aid supplies into the delta via trucks and boats. It said it had been granted permission to fly in supplies.

“We are focusing on those still alive; 50 percent of them have wounds and they are infected,” MSF official Frank Smithius in Myanmar told Australian radio. “Because of the winds and high water, people got smashed around.”

Jean-Michel Grand, executive director of Action contre la Faim (Action Against Hunger) in London said the logistical obstacles were formidable.

“The roads are very poor or destroyed, and in many cases there were no roads before. Everybody’s looking at boats as an alternative. It’s going to be a massive logistics challenge.

Source

Here is how you can donate to these aid organizations:

Food: World Food Programme

Action Against Hunger

Relief supplies: International Committee of the Red Cross

Medicine: Doctors without Borders

Note: All aid organizations are reporting fraud.  Give directly to the organization, not secondary sites or emails.

The Bush administration pissing contest needs to stop

Every since the cyclone hit, the Bush administration has engaged in petty and childish rhetoric. Apparently Secretary of State Rice has been too busy with her lecture circuit, so they trotted out Laura Bush to elevate hypocrisy and insensitivity to an art form. The government of Myanmar can legitimately be criticized for its treatment of its citizens, but none of those criticisms are helpful when 100,000 people are dead and millions are without food or shelter.

Laura Bush either has a very short memory or a defective conscience.

May 3, 2008:

A Category 3 tropical cyclone approaches Myanmar.

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There is massive flooding in the low-lying delta areas.

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The government is unprepared to handle the aftermath, as thousands drown and millions are left without food or shelter.

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August 30, 2005:

A Category 3 tropical cyclone approaches New Orleans.

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There is massive flooding in the low-lying delta areas.

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The government is unprepared to handle the aftermath, as thousands drown and millions are left without food or shelter.

You might think that the press would call her attention to the blatant hypocrisy of criticizing the government of Myanmar for its poor emergency response when her husband’s failure to respond to Katrina was even more egregious. Unlike Myanmar, we had the resources to warn, evacuate, rescue, and speed recovery. Take a look at what she was asked.

Q. Do you think that they have blood on their hands for that lack of warning?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I just think it’s very, very important — that we know already that they are very inept; that they have not been able to govern in a way that lets their company — country, for one thing, build an economy. This is a country that’s rich in natural resources. Their natural resources are being depleted as they sell them off, as far as we can tell from the outside, for the financial benefit of the regime itself and not for the good of the people. We know that.

A government that is inept, fails to act in the best interest of its people, and depletes its resources for financial benefit of well-connected corporations sounds just like the good old United States of America.  

Her concern over natural resource protection in Myanmar is particularly ironic and deliciously ill-informed. The environmental degradation, including the cutting of the mangrove swamps and teak forests, took place under the auspices of our great friend and ally, Great Britain. It was the British who decided to convert the wetlands to rice paddies.

The delta is former swampland that was converted during British colonial times into one of the world’s largest rice-growing areas. It is exceptionally fertile but difficult to traverse.

“The infrastructure was degraded to begin with,” said Sean Turnell, an expert on Myanmar at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. Dykes had collapsed, irrigation systems failed and bridges were sometimes impassable before the cyclone, Mr. Turnell said.

The delta was only sparsely inhabited until the 1900s but by the early 20th century had been transformed into what became known as the rice bowl of Asia. Rice grown in the delta fed large swaths of the British empire and colonial Burma, the former name for Myanmar, was for several decades the world’s largest rice exporter. But under military rule, Myanmar has seen a steep decline in rice production as rice paddies have been neglected, international sanctions have prevented many buyers from handling Myanmar’s rice and a lack of investment in modern port facilities and port dredging has made it very expensive to ship rice in or out of Myanmar.

The felling of mangrove swamps and the destruction of dense primary jungle removed natural barriers and may have left populations more vulnerable.

“Obviously nobody thought of the environmental consequences of all this,” Michael Adas, a professor of history at Rutgers University and the author of The Burma Delta, a book about the transformation to a rice-growing center.

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This is how mature countries respond to a natural disaster.

On the same day Laura Bush was speaking to the White House Dictation Corps, Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith focused on the need for crisis response.

Smith told reporters after a speech in Hong Kong that it remains difficult to evaluate how the disaster played out in Myanmar because of patchy communications.

“I just don’t think we’re in a position to make that sort of judgment now given the difficulties of communication. And also, frankly, it’s not, in my mind, the priority. The priority now is rendering assistance to thousands of displaced people who urgently need our assistance,” he said.

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The German government just announced it is doubling its immediate humanitarian relief for the people in Myanmar to one million euro. The funds are available immediately for use primarily for ensuring drinking water supplies, emergency shelters, food, and medical care. Foreign Minister Dr Frank-Walter Steinmeier issued the following statement on the situation in Myanmar:

“The Federal Government is growing extremely concerned as the increasing extent of the disaster in Myanmar becomes known. The top priority now must be to help the injured and homeless. Ensuring supplies of drinking water and medicines is a matter of particular urgency.

Germany has offered its help and is prepared to provide further assistance. I appeal once again to the authorities in Myanmar to allow all helpers unhindered access to the disaster areas and to facilitate an effective international aid operation.”

Source

Too bad Hillary Clinton decided to loan herself another 6 million to continue her futile presidential campaign. Donating the money to the people of Myanmar would have been a real act of leadership.

25 comments

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    • DWG on May 8, 2008 at 8:20 pm
      Author

    Thanks for reading. More needs to be done to help these people.

  1. … is beautiful and heartbreaking.

    Thanks for this, DWG.

    • nocatz on May 8, 2008 at 9:10 pm

    example of how the maladministration is hurting people around the world. Our credibility, maybe not universally revered before, is so completely screwed now. Khalilzad has the talking point too….

    “We’re outraged by the slowness of the response of the government of Burma (Myanmar) to welcome and accept assistance,” U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters. “It’s clear that the government’s ability to deal with the situation, which is catastrophic, is limited.”

    These statements are just SICK JOKES now.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24

    Plus half the world thinks there’s a chance we would invade their country given a slight opening.

  2. be able to shuffle some money from their campaign chests to give to the victims of this disaster.

    I think all three of them can spare that extra attack ad buy.

  3. forgive me if I’m wrong, but I think Condi was a bit more generous today (for her), and has toned down the rhetoric.

    Part of the problem, from what I’ve read, is that the military junta in Myanmar doesn’t want to give out visas to aid workers: not just from the U.S. (one might understand that, given our current regime) but from all the countries that would like to help.

    Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    Although what Laura said was reprehensible, it was nothing more than we can expect from someone who didn’t divorce chimpy long ago.  And she said it (IIRC) on Monday or Tuesday.  Somebody ought to send her back to the library where she can take care of books like My Pet Goat and not inflict any further Bu$hco damage on this planet.  

    • Edger on May 9, 2008 at 2:15 am

    Use the money budgeted for the occupation for the next year to aid the people in Burma.

    C’mon, George. It might even help your reputation. And it might help Nancy’s to suggest something like that.

    • kj on May 9, 2008 at 3:21 am

    did she?  this is so wrong in so many ways, my brain has popped a circuit.

    …yhey have not been able to govern in a way that lets their company — country, for one thing, build an economy.

    Doctors Without Borders has 1,000 people in country, good; but boats are needed, not good.

    Thank you for this and the poem, DWG, from the monk.  No words.

    • kj on May 9, 2008 at 3:52 am

    all gone to hell.  sorry.  

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