Save Burma

အာဏာရွင္စနစ္ က်ဆံုးမွ တတိုင္းျပည္လံုး စစ္မွန္တဲ့ ဒီမိုကေရစီကို ခံစားရမယ္

Archive for May 12th, 2008

Is there an end to Myanmarese agony?

with one comment

12 May 2008

Is there an end to Myanmarese agony?

Ati Nurbaiti, The Jakarta Post, Mae Sot, Thailand

Criticism continued last week against the Myanmar military junta which went on with referendum plans in areas unaffected by the deadly cyclone. But at least one citizen said he was eager to make his mark on policy-making.

We don’t know whether he voted “yes” or “no” on the new amendment to the constitution. Rigging was reportedly widespread, with voters saying they only had to sign ballot sheets already marked “yes” , according to an e-mail sent Saturday to The Jakarta Post.

Yet at least in one town a voter said there was no intimidation; some even confided that they would vote no, the source from Myanmar said.

A “yes” in the referendum, critics say, would only endorse clauses in the draft constitution that further justify a prolonging of the junta’s power. A no vote, some say, would just as equally provide an excuse for the regime to stay in power for at least another decade, to watch over preparations for a new draft constitution.

People in Myanmar are not entirely powerless or apathetic. Despite heavy censorship dozens of newspapers and magazines can be found on newsstands, though mostly on soccer, astrology, religion and gossip. “People are highly literate, they really want to know other news,” a business journalist in Yangon said.

Satellite dishes are easily visible; although the government tried to raise the price of satellite dishes, tea shop owners must compete with each other to lure patrons hungry for the latest soccer matches. The same is true for Internet stalls. Sensitive stories will still reach the public, reporters say, if needs be through poetry and fiction, comedy and caricatures.

Using long-established networks the media, mostly outside the country such as the Democratic Voice of Burma radio and television, manage to get much-needed information to Myanmarese working or hiding overseas.

Journalists say it is this public curiosity that helps to egg on the press; a few independent media outlets exist though most are based in Thailand, India and other countries.

The junta rulers managed to damage their reputation further by hindering the channeling of aid to cyclone survivors. The UN estimates one million people are homeless, while a food crisis looms as the expected harvest is now under water in the Irrawaddy delta, the hardest hit area housing a number of towns including the capital, Yangon.

Is the end near for the generals, as some critics say?

It does seem the end may come sooner than earlier thought, judging from leaked news of survivors’ frustration over their government’s inaction.

But no one is offering a time period — the world is watching with disbelief as aid struggles to reach 300,000 survivors one week after Cyclone Nargis hit.

Like Indonesia, decades of authoritarian rule has led to a largely politically powerless populace — and Indonesia’s Soeharto was much more liberal than the reclusive junta in Myanmar.

On top of a weak civil society, dissidents acknowledge, there is a lack of unity. The country’s minorities, the various non-Burmese ethnic groups, have been fighting for autonomy for 60 years, since British rule ended in Myanmar. The insurgency provides fertile ground for divide-and-rule tactics by the junta.

“I fear a civil war when the junta is gone,” a former political prisoner in the border town of Mae Sot told the Post, requesting anonymity.

So who would run the country in the absence of the junta?

“It is only the tatmadaw that owns the fire brigades,” said a local journalist, referring to the army. “Their duty is to protect the army first.”

He was responding to questions about reports the fire brigade only appeared 24 hours after the cyclone hit the capital.

The most solid civilian institution would appear to be the monasteries. Cyclone survivors sought shelter, food and comfort from the monks, who cooked for them and helped clear away the debris.

But many of the monks have fled since the “saffron revolution” late last year, an activist said.

Students are always referred to as a source of bravery among civilians. The 1988 generation involved in protests that led to at least 3,000 dead has inspired marches over the years — the most recent was late last year, triggered by economic hardship.

The perception of ethnic differences further weakens unity in society.

And millions of Myanmarese are further powerless as they are in exile and stateless, and constantly watching over their shoulder fearing arrest.

The “saffron revolution” of last September and October gladdened the hearts of many from Myanmar who saw increased international awareness of the situation in their country following the crackdown. But they remain realistic; they understand the hurdles they face, not least the perceived absence of support from neighbors.

“ASEAN should stop supporting the junta,” one of the monks said.

Many wonder what difference this cyclone will bring.

Will widespread resentment eventually end the rule of the junta?

From a monastery in the Mae La refugee camp on the border, another monk has a rather different suggestion.

“The soldiers, the students and the monks are the pillars of Burma society,” he said. “One day, the soldiers will have a change of heart.”

Whether the cyclone will bring that change of heart, much more is needed to reconcile such strange bedfellows.

Even in despair, one Yangon resident said, “The Burmese always have hope.”

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

May 12, 2008 at 5:05 am

Posted in Varieties in English

Tagged with ,

World Focus on Burma (11 and 12 May 08) part 2

leave a comment »

Anger mounts in Bangkok at Myanmar aid visa delays
Reuters AlertNet, UK –
By Ed Cropley BANGKOK, May 12 (Reuters) – A furious rescue worker accused Myanmar’s military junta on Monday of crimes against humanity for refusing to …
Myanmar says parts of nation still cut off
He said there were still some parts of country , formerly known as Burma, where government officials had not been able to visit since the massive storm, …
US aid flight en route to Myanmar
CNN International –
The country’s name was changed from Burma to Myanmar in 1989, but many who do not recognize the current government still use its former name. …
US to begin airlift relief in Burma
USA Today –
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — The US was launching its first relief airlift Monday after prolonged negotiations with Burma’s military rulers, …


Myanmar cyclone: relief supplies still fall short, United Kingdom –
A cargo plane carrying 35 tonnes of aid, chartered by the International Committee of the Red Cross, has landed in Burma – also known as Myanmar – amid signs …
Aucklanders invited to join candlight vigil for cyclone victims (press release)
Myanmar: Survivors of Cyclone Nargis Global Voices Online
Dire warning as desperation grows Melbourne Herald Sun
Daily MailThe Australian
all 890 news articles »
. (Pressemitteilung)
Myanmar completes referendum poll (Pressemitteilung), Austria –
… was circulated after the Council heard a briefing by UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari from his then four-day mission to Burma. Myanmar government therafter ..

The Southern Ledger

Myanmar: Marines, Sailors Prepare for Possible Operations in Burma
ReliefWeb (press release), Switzerland –
… and sailors with the Essex Amphibious Readiness Group are preparing for possible humanitarian assistance operations to aid cyclone-stricken Burma. …
FACTBOX-US moves planes, ships nearer to stricken Myanmar Reuters
US increases cyclone aid for Myanmar The Associated Press
Bush Pushes for US Relief Teams in Burma The Irrawaddy News Magazine
Kansas City StarUSA Today
all 706 news articles »

The Associated Press
Myanmar state TV: Cyclone death toll more than 28000
The Associated Press –
said Debbie Stothard, head of the Southeast Asian human rights group ALTSEAN-Burma. Myanmar is also known as Burma. She told Associated Press Television ..
Burma (Myanmar): An unbending regime still blocks aid
ReliefWeb (press release), Switzerland –
By Simon Montlake | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor For international aid workers trying to reach cyclone survivors in Burma (Myanmar), …
Burma junta focuses on vote amid misery, Philippines –
Despite alarm bells from the international community, the military government of Burma (Myanmar) kept its focus on the holding of a national referendum to ..
. (Pressemitteilung)

Myanmar completes referendum poll (Pressemitteilung), Austria –
… was circulated after the Council heard a briefing by UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari from his then four-day mission to Burma. Myanmar government therafter …

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

May 12, 2008 at 4:53 am

World Focus on Burma (11 and 12 May 08) part 1

with one comment

BURMA: ‘Junta Aid Blocks Could Multiply Cyclone Toll’
IPS, Italy –
It is still waiting for a temporary license to operate in the South-east Asian country that the notoriously oppressive military leaders have renamed Myanmar …


Seattle Post Intelligencer

Health experts warn of 2nd Myanmar disaster
Arab Times, Kuwait –
YANGON (Agencies): Myanmar held a rare election on Saturday to approve a new army-drafted constitution, ignoring calls from the outside world to postpone …
Cyclone Nargis: The sad story of one Burmese village USA Today
all 164 news articles »
Residents supply aid to victims of cyclone
Sarasota Herald-Tribune, FL –
In response to the cyclone in Myanmar, local people are supporting efforts to get aid to those who were displaced by the disaster. …
Miliband: Burma aid limit crisis
Channel 4 News, UK –
Massive displacement of people; inadequate water supplies; people living in flooded situations; little sanitation” Myanmar Television showed pictures of …
Letters from our readers
World Socialist Web Site, MI –
The people of Burma should read the history of the IMF and WTO as well as American/multinational bankers and avoid them like the plague. …
Where the Conscience Meets the Checkbook
Washington Post, United States –
“We are told there are all these people who need help in Myanmar [Burma], but there are 100 million Americans who are comfortable enough to send money, …
Burma’s generals take aid credit
Washington Times, DC –
… an unidentified military official passes out food aid at a relief camp in Myanmar. BANGKOK — Government-controlled television in Burma yesterday …


Myanmar exports rice as cyclone victims suffer
Hindu, India –
New York (PTI): While the international community was rushing aid to Myanmar for survivors of the last weeks devastating cyclone, its government was …
Myanmar exports rice despite food needs United Press International
Amid disaster, Myanmar regime remains defiant Honolulu Advertiser
Myanmar curbs aid, exports rice Chicago Tribune
Free Internet PressThe Observer
all 18 news articles »
Burmese junta thwarts aid efforts, pushes ahead with referendum
San Francisco Chronicle, USA –
The International Committee of the Red Cross sent its first aid flight to Burma, also known as Myanmar, on Saturday. It was loaded with pumps, generators, …
Could bungled relief effort be the last straw for Burmese people?
The Gazette (Montreal), Canada –
The military regime in Burma, or Myanmar, has ruled with an iron fist since 1962. It shows no willingness to hand over power to anyone – especially not Aung …
Remarks Upon Departure From Japan
US Department of State, DC –
Both our countries have offered generous humanitarian assistance to the people of Burma, of Myanmar, but so far the government has very much restricted …
Post-storm vigil
Toronto Sun, Canada –
Yesterday, Myanmar’s military junta went ahead with a constitutional referendum while foreign aid trickled into the country formerly known as Burma. ..
The Myanmar Cyclone Disaster – A sermon by the Bishop of Shrewsbury
Diocese of Lichfield, UK –
… today is the plight of those people in Myanmar (the place we used to call Burma) which is in very stark contrast to our happiness and celebration. …
Myanmar on precipice of ‘health catastrophe’
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, PA –
UN agencies and international charities that were operating in Myanmar — formerly known as Burma — before the disaster have been slowly setting up ..
Dire warning as desperation grows
Melbourne Herald Sun, Australia –
“We are afraid there is a real risk of a massive public catastrophe waiting to happen in Myanmar (Burma),” regional chief Sarah Ireland said. …


Myanmar exports rice as cyclone victims suffer
Hindu, India –
New York (PTI): While the international community was rushing aid to Myanmar for survivors of the last weeks devastating cyclone, its government was …
Myanmar exports rice despite food needs United Press International
Amid disaster, Myanmar regime remains defiant Honolulu Advertiser
Myanmar curbs aid, exports rice Chicago Tribune
Free Internet PressThe Observer
all 18 news articles »
Myanmar – Days Later, Only Death Lives
Blogger News Network –
by Simon Barrett in Asian News Myanmar, formally known as Burma was a country in trouble already, the ruling military junta had created an atmosphere of …
Soles4Souls(TM) Inc. Sends 25000 Pairs of Shoes to Myanmar; Calls … PR Newswire (press release)
all 8 news articles »
Myanmar Internet aid flows in, but no tsunami, Canada –
… which already had operations in Myanmar before the May 2 cyclone, say they are able to control delivery of their own aid. The anti-junta Burma Campaign …
Myanmar Cyclone Survivors Wait in Camps for Food, Aid to Arrive
Bloomberg –
The military, which has ruled the country formerly known as Burma since 1962, says approval of the charter will pave the way for democratic elections in …
Myanmar eases restrictions on aid
Radio New Zealand, New Zealand –
Increased amounts of aid have started to reach cyclone-stricken Burma amid signs the government is easing restrictions on foreign access. …

Wall Street Journal
Aid Groups Warn Myanmar Toll Could Jump From Lack of Water
Wall Street Journal –
Myanmar is also known as Burma. “Even in the Yangon area, which is reachable by the regime, people are complaining they are not getting aid. ..
Myanmar on tenth day after its Natural, India –
Cine stars of Burma made a valiant visit to the nargis hit places and helped the needy with clothes foods to the needy.Places of worship,schools and …

Voice of America

Disaster in Burma Drives Rice Prices Even Higher (VIDEO)
Salem-News.Com, OR –
(RANGOON, Myanmar) – Damage from Cyclone Nargis may spread beyond Burma in the form of higher food costs throughout Asia and the rest of the world, …
Burma Cyclone Damage May Further Boost Rice Prices Voice of America
Food costs ease but world markets remain volatile The Age
High Prices for Staple Foods Dip, but Volatile Markets Persist New York Times
all 18 news articles »
‘Malign neglect’ may make Burma disaster six times as bad as tsunami
Scotsman, United Kingdom –
We have to do the same for the people of Myanmar (Burma].” Buddhist temples and schools in towns on the outskirts of the storm’s trail of destruction are …
EU to hold Myanmar meeting
Times of India, India –
Michel has indicated that he intends to travel to Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, tomorrow, immediately after the meeting, to discuss with the country’s .
GOP convention leader quits, citing Myanmar ties
Seattle Times, United States –
… hours after Newsweek posted a story online that the company was paid $348000 in 2002 and 2003 to represent the government in Myanmar, also called Burma. …
Calls rise to defy Myanmar regime, fly in aid
Los Angeles Times, CA –
… frustrated voices, including France’s foreign minister and a broad collection of groups representing exiles from Myanmar, also known as Burma, …
Evil in Burma
Atlantic Online –
… should call the country Burma — as the Bush Administration, Senators Clinton, McCain*, and Obama, and the Washington Post do — rather than Myanmar, ..
Air Force ready to transport RP humanitarian team to Myanmar, Philippines –
By Joel Guinto MANILA, Philippines–The Philippine Air Force will transport a Philippine humanitarian contingent to cyclone-ravaged Myanmar (Burma) on …
Myanmar yet to issue clearance for RP medical contingent GMA
Filipino medical workers ready for Myanmar mission
all 3 news articles »


Scots group join Burma aid effort
BBC News, UK –
A Scottish-based aid worker is heading to Burma, after securing a rare visa from the authorities. Mervyn Lee, from Mercy Corps, will fly out on Monday and …
Mercy Corps’ Top European Official Heads to Myanmar FOXBusiness
‘Burma is a country that had great needs even before the emergency … ReliefWeb (press release)
Aid worker heads to Burma The Press Association
KTVZReuters AlertNet
all 34 news articles »


Australia raises is cyclone aid to Myanmar to US$23.5 million
International Herald Tribune, France –
Speaking to reporters in the western Australian city of Perth, Smith said it was essential that the ruling junta in Myanmar, also known as Burma, …
Australia increases Myanmar aid to 23.5 million US dollars Hindustan Times
Australia Boosts Aid for Myanmar Cyclone Relief to A$25 Million Bloomberg
Australia increases support for Burma cyclone victims ReliefWeb (press release)
Malaysia Star
all 65 news articles »
Is there an end to Myanmarese agony?
Jakarta Post, Indonesia –
Using long-established networks the media, mostly outside the country such as the Democratic Voice of Burma radio and television, manage to get much-needed …
Myanmar – Days Later, Only Death Lives Blogger News Network
all 2 news articles »
Myanmar (Burma) cyclone
ReliefWeb (press release), Switzerland –
The disaster unfolding in Myanmar (Burma) as a result of cyclone Nargis is far worse than anyone had anticipated – torrential rains, flooding and gale force …
Cyclone Nargis devastates Myanmar: ADRA expands response ReliefWeb (press release)
all 2 news articles »
In Myanmar, tragedy for thousands — and one mother in prison
Detroit Free Press, United States –
All of us are full of sympathy for the people of Burma as they face the aftermath of the cruel cyclone that has caused so much suffering. …

The Associated Press
Myanmar state TV: Cyclone death toll more than 28000
The Associated Press –
said Debbie Stothard, head of the Southeast Asian human rights group ALTSEAN-Burma. Myanmar is also known as Burma. She told Associated Press Television ..
Websites provide crucial links in Myanmar cyclone crisis
Los Angeles Times, CA –
… arm of the cyber-police in Myanmar, also known as Burma, and thwart an isolated, repressive regime to bring news and personal information to the world. …

Boston Globe

Why Myanmar’s generals shun aid
ABS CBN News, Philippines –
Burma ‘s military regime is extraordinarily xenophobic,” says Sean Turnell, a Myanmar expert at Australia ‘s Macquarie University . …
UN chief, Carter to discuss world health problems Atlanta Journal Constitution
UN officials criticize Myanmar’s response to cyclone The Associated Press
UN Chief Alarmed By Burma’s Critical Situation After Cyclone Kills … AHN
The Star-Ledger – NJ.comMinneapolis Star Tribune
all 399 news articles »
Catastrophe to Celebration …
Huffington Post, NY –
For example, the devastation of Burma’s / Myanmar’s mangrove groves over the years enable the cyclone to cause far more devastation than if this natural …

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

May 12, 2008 at 4:41 am

Burma: Cyclone updated top news (12 May 2008)

leave a comment »

US aid flight heads for Myanmar –
The first US relief supplies are set to be flown into cyclone-hit Myanmar on Monday after long negotiations with the country’s military government.
Myanmar Junta Still Blocking Much Cyclone Aid New York Times
Aid trickles into Burma, but toll ‘could Times Online
CNNTampa TribuneThe Associated PressInternational Herald Tribune
all 1,221 news articles »


A large statue of Buddha sits in water at a temple heavily damaged by last week’s destructive cyclone in Myanmar.

Boat carrying Myanmar aid sinks; toll climbs beyond 28000
The Associated Press –
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) – Myanmar’s monumental task of feeding and sheltering 1.5 million cyclone survivors suffered yet another blow Sunday when a boat laden with relief supplies – one of the first international shipments – sank on its way to the
US to begin airlift relief in Burma USA Today
Red Cross boat sinks in Myanmar CNN
Daily News
all 1,270 news articles »

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

May 12, 2008 at 4:08 am

A woman drowned while giving birth, her dead child half-born

May 11, 2008

A woman drowned while giving birth, her dead child half-born

As Burma’s junta blocks aid for the cyclone victims, one dreadful sight captures their suffering for Harry McKenzie in Bogale

Burma’s great Irrawaddy river runs flat and muddy. It twines and forks through miles of rich delta and has always given nurture and good fortune to the people of southern Burma.

But in the wake of last weekend’s cyclone, death and sickness have replaced the captivating beauty of this triangle of fertile land. A terrible sadness has settled in. In many places nothing moves, not a living thing – not even a thread of smoke from a village fire. It is deathly still.

The pinnacles of the pagodas that dot the landscape have toppled in the wind. Bodies float in the water like chunks of wood. Trees are down, houses are flattened and everywhere in the inundated rice fields of this devoutly Buddhist land there is an unbearable sense of loss.

With every hour that passes without the secretive Burmese military junta opening its doors to western aid workers, more people are dying. The junta has long been suspicious of the West, which enforces sanctions against it, and has snubbed American and other offers of help to avert further deaths.

Amid mounting international criticism of the rulers, there were stark warnings by such figures as Tim Costello, chief executive of World Vision Australia, of a disaster of “apocalyptic proportions” if water, food, shelter and medical care for the estimated 1.5m people hardest hit by the storm are blocked.

The suffering of the survivors is growing ever more acute as grief for vanished loved ones is compounded by desperation in the long wait for vital supplies.

“I have been looking for my wife and three daughters for six days,” said Tei Lin, a farmer in Bo Thin hamlet, moving ponderously through the stinking mud, a photograph of two of his daughters in his breast pocket.

Not far away San Po Thin described how before he blacked out he had seen a wave “as tall as a mountain” sweeping towards his village. Recovering consciousness later, he found his wife, son and two daughters had been snatched away. There was nothing left of his village except uprooted trees, heaps of rubble and swarms of hungry people.

“I have lost everything,” he repeated over and over. “There was nothing I could do. There was no warning.”

All week the toll was rising. Yesterday it was authoritatively estimated to have reached 116,000, making Cyclone Nargis the worst natural disaster to strike Burma in modern times, far worse than the 2004 tsunami, which by some miracle was said to have killed only 68 people in Burma, in contrast to the tens of thousands of deaths in neighbouring countries.

“I will be very surprised if it does not rise higher,” said Andrew Kirkwood, who has spent 13 years working for Save the Children in Burma. “The numbers are quite numbing.”

Yesterday Kirkwood set off by helicopter for a town on the coast south of Laputta to see if anyone was alive. Aerial photographs he had studied the night before showed it to be underwater, with some trees sticking out, but with no sign of life.

But there was also some good news. The first Save the Children boat, carrying 100 tons of fresh water, rice, sugar, salt, dried noodles and oral rehydration powder, was due to arrive at Haing Gyi, an island on the coast where at one point the United Nations feared 50,000 people had died. It later revised that figure downwards to 4,000 dead and 10,000 missing.

However, dysentery was reported to be taking a grip in parts of the delta and Costello and other aid specialists voiced fears that outbreaks of the disease were on the doorstep of Rangoon, the largest city.

A week after the cyclone, there was still no aid effort to match the scale of the disaster. Burma’s rulers made clear that, while they would accept international assistance, they would run the relief operation on their own, whatever the West said about their lack of logistical skills and resources.

To cap it all, they were pressing ahead yesterday with a referendum on an army-drafted charter for a new constitution, which critics dismissed as a device that would allow the junta to maintain the lion’s share of power.

The polling stations in Rangoon, where voters were said to 80% to 90% in favour of the army’s charter, seemed a world away from the villages I passed through on a journey to the delta, where people made the same persistent plea: “We have no rice. We have no fresh water. We have no medical supplies. Who is going to help us?”

Almost a week after the cyclone, villages in the stricken areas of Kungyangon and Dedaye said they had received just one government delivery, of a bag of rice per family and some soup. A single fresh-water truck arrived on Thursday; until then, most people had survived on coconut milk or whatever rain-water they could collect.

Leaving Rangoon on the road to Bogale, one of the worst-affected towns, soon revealed to me the scale of the crisis: petrol queues stretching for more than half a mile, with roadside touts charging up to US$12 (£6) a litre; huge trees upended like saplings; electricity and telephone wires hanging uselessly from their broken columns; advertising billboards, their placards ripped off, twisted like wire coat hangers; and huge piles of rubbish lining every street. A golf course was submerged and the driving range’s nets shredded.

Nearby, a well-built army base stood in almost pristine condition, with its corrugated iron roof only partially damaged.

“Everywhere is broken. But the army is not broken,” said my guide, a young man whose own home had been crushed.

Earlier, we had driven past the Rangoon correction centre where, in a show of the ruthlessness that characterised the crackdown on dissident monks last autumn, the army is said to have opened fire with machineguns on hundreds of prisoners who tried to escape when the cyclone blew holes in the roof and walls. According to local accounts, 30 were killed, including 25 monks.

In a disused gymnasium in Hlaing Taya township, 150 destitute people huddled in patient misery and asked searching questions of a government that has often cowed its critics into silence during 46 years of repressive rule.

“The government has done nothing to help us. We were given no warning of the cyclone,” said one angry community leader whose people had gone for five days without food or fresh water.

As we headed farther south and the road became a dirt track snaking through flooded paddy fields that extended as far as the horizon, the farmhouses teetered at impossible angles. They had been wrenched sideways on their little stilts by the storm surge. Every village yielded the stories of survival, loss and anger.

The most poignant sight was that of a young woman who had drowned during labour. Her dead child was with her, half-born. Beside her lay the corpse of a man, left arm outstretched, pointing to the heavens – her husband, perhaps. Nobody had come to claim her.

“Who’s supposed to bury her if her family are all dead?” I asked.

“That’s the question we’re all asking,” the guide replied.

More than 200 people in the woman’s village had been killed and a team of gravediggers was too busy to deal with her.

The prospect of urgently needed outside help diminished further yesterday when visa offices were closed for a three-day holiday, to the frustration of officials from international relief organisations vainly pressing to be allowed in.

All this raises serious questions as to how willing the Burmese regime is to facilitate humanitarian relief for its suffering people. The junta said it would allow one US aid flight to land. But it spurned help from the US military, which has C-130 cargo planes, helicopters and ships in the vicinity.

Water is the breath of life to the 7m people dwelling in the Irrawaddy delta. It helped to make the region the “rice bowl of Asia” before independence from Britain. Now much of it is inundated with salt water and useless for growing rice.

As in previous cyclones, the weakest – children and women – make up the bulk of the dead. “Every day that goes by, certainly more children will die,” Kirkwood said.

He pointed out his concerns about water. One was that it was probably already too late to save many lives in areas that were flooded by the tidal surge of salt water. “If people have had no access to fresh drinking water they could live for only about 72 hours,” he said.

In areas where people had access to fresh water, it was probably contaminated by decomposing bodies and animal carcasses and undrinkable, he said; and where people were crowded together in temporary shelters, it was probably also polluted.

In and around Rangoon itself tens of thousands of people had no access to clean water because wells were flooded or soiled, so they were forced to drink polluted river water.

Even without the foot-dragging of Burma’s military government, recovery from such a disaster will take years and cost tens of millions of pounds. Yesterday, as the international pressure mounted on the junta to open up its aid effort, critics wondered whether it had failed its populace from the very beginning by neglecting to give adequate warning of the storm building up in the Bay of Bengal.

The government insisted that it had raised the alarm well in advance. But unlike its neighbour Bangladesh, which has 40,000 cyclone volunteers and 3,000 cyclone shelters along its coastline, Burma has none.

Ordinary citizens complained that they had been told the storm was abating, with winds of only 40 or 50mph. In fact, when the cyclone made landfall, its winds were up to 150mph and blew for six hours or more.

The deaths were caused mainly when the wind whipped up a 13ft-high wall of water that built up over the shallows of the continental shelf and smashed ashore, drowning tens of thousands of people. As it ripped apart towns, shantytowns and villages, it made hundreds of thousands homeless, destroyed livestock and boats and washed away roads.

Even a week later, it is still unclear how Burma’s leaders are directing their emergency response. The 400,000-strong army has the task of distributing the aid to stricken areas but all the signs are that it is not up to such a monumental task.

The big question in the medium term is whether the humanitarian crisis will open up cracks in the regime’s armour and ultimately bring about a change in Burma. That is clearly what many Burmese inside and outside the country are hoping.

But for the tens of thousands who died beneath the wall of water and the thousands now dying for lack of aid, it is too late for change. They will continue to be washed up for months to come, victims of a natural disaster that threatens to become a bigger catastrophe because their leaders have failed them.


Than Shwe
Deeply xenophobic hard man of the regime. Head of state since 1992, he is 75 and believed to be suffering from diabetes, hypertension and cancer. Consults a blind peasant astrologer for advice. Spent a fortune on his daughter’s 2006 wedding.

Maung Aye
Hard-drinking second-in-command. Aged 70, he suffers from prostate cancer but remains heir-apparent. Known for his ruthlessness in war against ethnic Karen guerillas, he has vowed to “annihilate” Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader, and her followers.

Shwe Mann
Career soldier and No 3 in the ruling State Peace and Development Council, he was trusted to carry Than Shwe’s orders when the leader was in hospital in December 2006. In his early sixties, he is regarded as one of the more energetic of the generals.

Thein Sein
Prime minister since last October and fawning loyalist of Than Shwe. He has made several public appearances since the cyclone hit Burma. Travels frequently in southeast Asia and is the public face of the junta, although he exercises little power.

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

May 12, 2008 at 3:48 am