It’s time for humanitarian aid, not rebuke, in Burma
A cyclone in Burma has killed 22,500 people and more than 40,000 are estimated missing.
A powerful cyclone that ravaged Burma last Saturday calls for a major international effort to put politics aside and come to the aid of survivors. Even the military junta that controls the country has reluctantly decided to accept outside assistance, and the Bush administration should change its tone in being part of that humanitarian effort.
The cyclone took more than 22,500 lives, and the toll is likely to increase; more than 40,000 others are missing. Most of the victims were killed by a 12-foot tidal wave that swept away houses in low-lying villages, according to the minister for relief and resettlement for the country called Myanmar by the military leaders but Burma by the democratic opposition.
The Myanmar Association of Hawaii was quick to create a relief fund to buy water, food and other supplies to forward to a nongovernmental organization in Bangkok, an hour by plane to Burma. The United Nations, the European Commission, neighboring China, Britain and other nations have offered to deliver aid. The United States has agreed to give $3 million to the effort.
President Bush callously used the occasion to grant the Congressional Gold Medal to Burmese democracy activist and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest in Burma. Bush offered to send disaster assessment teams into Burma, but only if invited, and first lady Laura Bush, the administration's unofficial spokeswoman on Burma, lectured to the junta about human rights and disaster relief.
"This is a cheap shot," said Aung Nain Oo, a Thailand-based Burmese political analyst. "The people are dying. This is no time for a political message to be aired. This is a time for relief."
In recent years, the military government has allowed foreign aid organizations into the country, but under tight controls. Last November, a team of 15 doctors, nurses and other volunteers from Hawaii spent a week in Burma providing medical treatment to the needy.
A referendum intended to further entrench the military junta remains scheduled for Saturday but has been delayed until May 24 in the worst-affected regions. Those also are areas of repressed opposition to the junta whose residents were angered by the military shooting into nonviolent, pro-democracy crowds led by Buddhist monks in September, killing at least 31 people and possibly many more.
The effects of the cyclone will be lasting. Once the world's biggest rice exporter, Burma has seen a sharp decline in production and the area hit by the cyclone was the modest rice bowl that remained. The cyclone came at a time of a worldwide food shortage.
» Checks payable to the Myanmar Association of Hawaii should be mailed to 720 N. King St., Honolulu, 96817, with "Storm Victims" in the check's memo.