None of us can have missed this.
More then 22,000 people have died as a result of Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar (still formally recognised as Burma in the US). Incomprehensible tragedy. 41,000 are missing and an estimated 1 million are homeless.
Buddhist nuns and monks have been spearheading the rescue efforts and trying to clear roadways to villages with little more than axes. The notoriously secretive military junta (the same people who have had pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi under arrest for 12 of the last 18 years) has been slow to ask for international help, even as its people die. The generals have now agreed to admit international disaster teams but the UN humanitarian team are still waiting for them to issue their visas.
The junta is in a sticky situation. It maintains a strict control over outside influence and Myanmar is, to all intents and purposes, a closed country. (Its fatality numbers are still unknown after the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean.) Allowing aid workers in risks the world seeing in, and also Myanmar’s people beginning to see out. Also, aid workers would be seen by the people to be the rescuers rather than the junta. However, failure to let people in would result in both internal and massive external condemnation, possible national revolt and closer international scrutiny than Myanmar’s generals would like.
This is a poor country whose leaders are more invested in their own power than in the welfare of the people. Its own resources and communications are severely lacking and international aid is therefore the only hope the Burmese people have.
Here’s a way to help. You’ve probably come across lots of portals to donation sites for this cyclone already but I figured one more couldn’t hurt. Who knows, probably a portion of donations doesn’t actually reach victims and goes on advertising and admin instead – maybe even an unacceptably large portion – but a fraction’s better than nothing and all the charities represented here are very visible in the field and well-known.
I’ve been interested in Aung San Suu Kyi, an amazing woman, for a while and consequently have learnt a wee bit about Burma. The country is woefully unprepared for a disaster of this sort anyway but to make it worse, the military junta didn’t even bother to tell the people a cyclone was on its way, people who are denied access to any information from the outside world. This is a natural disaster but it could easily be compounded by human evil, inertia and covert politics if help isn’t immediate and substantial. If people can at least be given vaccinations soon it might halt the spread of the diseases that can kill as many again after these things. It’ll become overtly political again soon enough but, in the meantime, lives could be saved. The numbers are already beyond all understanding.