Wednesday, May 7, 2008

In a drowning paradise, saving people from the sins of their leaders

May Ng Wednesday, 07 May 2008 20:52

May Ng is from the Southern Shan State of Burma and NY Regional Director of Justice for Human Rights in Burma.

Only a little over six months ago there seemed a real possibility that hope for a peaceful change in Burma was on the horizon. That ended in ugly scenes with attacks on Buddhist institutions and revered monks by the military junta of Burma.

Since then, the last thing people of Irrawaddy Delta, the heart of the saffron uprising, expected was one more deadly devastation. No government can stop or completely prevent the destructive power of storms such as Cyclone Nargis.

But the utter neglect by the heads of state in Burma is unparalleled in history--first to force citizens to leave the dangerous low lying areas,--and second to open doors for outside help once the devastation had occurred. The same military which is capable of keeping fifty million inhabitants under lock and key as seen during the Saffron Revolution could have undertaken some form of preventive action to
save at least part of the population. The scale of the devastation reflects the extent of the government's failure to take the welfare of its citizens seriously.

The regime which had killed thousands of young students in 1988, and many monks in 2007 seems to have touched another record with the number of unnecessary deaths from Cyclone Nargis. As of this moment it is quite possible that Burma has lost almost half as many people as the total numbers killed during the last Tsunami. And many more millions of people in a large area are left without shelter or food, and are in real danger of succumbing to hunger and diseases.

Neither the Western powers nor the Eastern neighbours seem to know how to engage the Burmese military into cooperating with disaster relief efforts with expediency. The unwillingness of the major powers to assert themselves by force to help Burma overcome the major humanitarian disaster at this critical moment is even more appalling. As the clock ticks away more people will simply succumb to the effect of killer cyclone after days of suffering.

Burmese people desperately need all the help they can get. So far the much heralded Asian's rise and its prosperous neighbours have done nothing for Burma, except to grab rich natural resources among themselves by befriending the rogue junta.

Those who are friendly with the generals should now assert their influence and bring the generals to their senses. The injured, sick, and homeless cyclone victims can no longer wait for the games military likes to play with international and domestic actors who are coming to Burma's aid. It is no time to dither. A concerted international effort is urgently needed. It is time to tell the generals to shelf their preposterous plan to crown themselves permanently in Burma with the electoral dictatorship, and instead proceed with saving the survivors of the biggest storm in Burma's history. The generals can score much higher politically by saving people's lives, not by killing or letting them die.

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