Disaster aid by force?
Originally posted: May 21, 2008
Disaster aid by force?
|Should other nations use military force to deliver aid to Myanmar? Read Thursday’s Tribune editorial here and tell us what you think.
More than two weeks after a massive storm hit the Irrawaddy Delta region of Myanmar, the country’s reclusive ruling junta continues to stall efforts by the international community to deliver aid.
The aid—clean drinking water, emergency food rations, and medical and sanitation assistance—is desperately needed. Myanmar’s rulers acknowledge that Cyclone Nargis, which hit May 3, has claimed at least 78,000 lives. The United Nations and the Red Cross say that toll may reach 138,000. But even as donors stand at the ready, the rulers have allowed only a trickle of aid.
On Monday, 15 days after Nargis made landfall, Myanmar’s rulers finally agreed to let their Southeast Asian neighbors begin to coordinate relief efforts. But aid experts from the West were still likely to be refused entry, George Yeo, Singapore’s foreign minister, said at a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). Senior General Than Shwe won’t even communicate with United National Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.
The intransigence of the military rulers has left the world facing an uneasy question: Should outside nations use military force to get assistance to the afflicted people? And if so, how do you do that?
CARE International’s director of emergency relief, Rigo Giron, said he couldn’t think of another non-conflict situation where a government, facing such massive suffering, had refused aid. Others in the aid community concurred.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has said that aid should be delivered by force. But that, according to experts, has never been done. Violating Myanmar’s sovereignty and angering the ruling junta could increase the suffering and isolation of the cyclone’s victims, they say.
Myanmar’s government has acknowledged that losses from the disaster exceed $10 billion. Shwe has claimed through state-controlled media outlets that Myanmar has spent $45.5 million on disaster relief, enough to meet its citizens’ immediate needs and move onto the rebuilding efforts.
Myanmar’s citizens, though, know that the government response has been nothing short of a second disaster. Clean drinking water is still at a premium in much of the Irrawaddy Delta. Food is scarce. Many survivors have no shelter.
The government has done its best to keep its citizens in the dark about the relief effort. But as the Los Angeles Times reported, a thriving underground market in information has sprung up in the face of such tight repression. Cyclone DVDs, available in urban markets, allow Myanmar’s citizens to witness the suffering of their compatriots. Many have learned from Internet reports and shortwave radio broadcasts that their government continues to refuse aid.
There is nothing surprising about the junta’s behavior. Lavinia Limon, the president of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, said the junta was similarly dismissive of foreign assistance following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that devastated neighbors Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand.
“Burma claimed to have no problems—‘We didn’t get hit at all and we can handle our own thing’,” Limon said. (The junta changed Burma’s name to Myanmar in 1989.) That attitude is again on display.
For now, it seems the use of force could prompt an even greater tragedy. Negotiation seems painfully inadequate, but it’s likely the only hope to open a route to Myanmar’s hardest-hit regions. Going in by force would be seen by Myanmar’s junta as an act of war and would put aid workers and the cyclone victims at greater peril. And Myanmar’s regional neighbors are unlikely to support efforts to deliver aid by force.
Ban ki-Moon is expected to arrive in Myanmar on Thursday. He will lobby Shwe to allow more aid and workers into the country. In the meantime, the world can do little more than wait.
The people of Burma are dying over lack of aid and medical treatment while the UN and the world leaders debate over respecting ” the sovereignty” of Burma. The Burmese military junta was not elected by the Burmese people; they had no rights over the fate of this country. By preventing aids from reaching the starving two and a half million people, they just sentenced them to death in the most horrifying conditions. The US naval ships loaded with life-saving aids are just hours away. They could just go in and save so many people’s lives instead of waiting around for “permission” from the evil junta. Please go in and help them. When the genocide of Rwanda occurred, UN and the world had said, “Never again,”. Now is the time to show what they meant by saving Burma. It would be so easy to save them. Please don’t turn your backs from this human tragedy being played out right now. Every second counts and every life matters. Go in and show the world, these people matter.
Posted by: Aye | May 21, 2008 9:32:42 PM