Burma’s dying cry out to be saved

The Sunday Times, May 11, 2008

Simon Jenkins

What are we waiting for? Where now is liberal interventionism? More than 100,000 people are dead after a cyclone in the Irrawaddy delta and the United Nations has declared that up to 2m people, deprived of aid for a week, are at risk of death. Barely 10% are reported to have received any help. The world stands ready to save them. The warehouses of Asia are crammed with supplies. Ships and planes are on station. Nothing happens.

Anyone who has visited this exquisite part of the world will know how avoidable is further catastrophe to the delta people. They are resourceful, peaceable and hugely resilient. Like those of lowlying Bangladesh next door, they are used to extreme weather. Their agriculture is fertile and they are self-sufficient in most things. But no one can survive instant starvation and disease.

They need not wait. There are three giant C130s loaded and ready in Thailand. There are American and French ships in the area, fortuitously on a disaster relief exercise, with shelters, clothing, latrines, medicines and water decontamination equipment. Above all there are helicopters, vital in an area where roads are impassable by flooding and fallen trees.

The aid agency World Vision has 600 staff in Burma and tons of supplies waiting in Dubai. The world cannot prevent natural calamities, but since the tsunami of 2004 it has learnt how to cope with their aftermath.

Nothing can be done because the Burmese military regime refuses to permit it. Instead it is wasting time this weekend holding a nationwide referendum, devoid of open debate, to legitimise its hold on power and exclude the opposition, led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

Continued . . .

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