Myanmar hit by Cyclone Nargis

In the latest of a string of major national disasters, Myanmar was struck by Cyclone Nargis last week and the destruction is only now beginning to emerge. The death toll varies depending on your source. Most papers are currently reporting that up to 22,000 people may have died. However, CNN reports that the top US diplomat in Myanmar is saying that it may be up to 100,000. That would put it up near the 2004 boxing day tsunami in terms of human destruction.

It’s an awful thing, no matter how you look at it. The area around the Irrawady delta is completely and utterly destroyed, with up to 95% of the buildings just plain gone. Tens of thousands of people are still unaccounted for, with the number varying between 41,000 and 70,000. Over a million people who live around the area are now homeless.

I can’t even begin to tell you how terrible this is for these individuals. The citizens of Myanmar have had very little in the way of luck lately. They’ve been suffering under the military junta that has ruled the country for many years. Protests for democracy earlier this year were violently crushed, with many of the revered monks of the country being beaten and arrested. But this cyclone may bring some rays of hope. Currently the junta is faced with a tough call. They’re doing all they can to help their citizens, using the army to try to clear roads and remove debris. However, supplies are few and far between. So this isolationist country has to decide whether to admit the hundreds or thousands of aid workers and agencies clamouring to get into the country to help.

The International Herald Tribune is reporting that visa applications for these aid workers are very slow, and this is severely hampering relief efforts. But they also note that if the junta chooses to open up and let foreign aid in, it would require new levels of co-operation with foreign governments. What’s disturbing is that the junta wants to go ahead with a planned constitutional referendum that would legitimize it’s grip on power, despite the humongous disaster it faces. It’s not exactly a good sign, but I still like to think that if they just let aid workers in it may do a lot to bring them back into the international community.

With over $30,000,000 pledged in aid already, I really hope the junta allows people in finally. It’s a terrifyingly dangerous time for many of the people hardest hit, and without rapid action the death toll could easily be much higher than 100,000.

[Update]

First, aid groups were accusing the Junta of stealing the aid that was coming their way.  Instead of letting anything good happen, aid shipments were being seized.  The junta was saying they would be distributing it themselves, but there was quite a lot of skepticism about that.

[Update 2]

Finally, the Junta has done something smart.  After a visit from the Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon, the government of Myanmar has agreed to let in foreign aid workers.  This is obviously unacceptably late in coming, but no matter what I’m happy they finally did something.  I don’t care what they had to be given to back down, for the sake of the people waiting for food I’m glad something’s happening.

Apparently, Doctors Without Borders has finally made it into the Irrawaddy Delta and has already encountered people who haven’t eaten in at least three days.  I can only imagine the situation will get worse the further into the delta they go.

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