Burma Aid Feared Too Late

Daily News Article   —   Posted on May 13, 2008

(by Betsy Pisik & Richard S. Ehrlich, WashingtonTimes.com) NEW YORK – U.N. humanitarian officials yesterday warned they might already be too late to prevent a “second wave” of deaths in cyclone-ravaged Burma from malaria, diarrhea and other diseases that will ravage a population weakened by exposure and hunger.

Burma’s military government has begun to issue a small number of visas to foreign relief workers, but U.N. officials say they need much more to immediately deploy logistical and aid specialists as well as emergency supplies to fend off a looming crisis.

“We are at a critical point,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said. “Unless more aid gets into the country very quickly, we will face an outbreak of infectious diseases that could dwarf today’s crisis.”

He said he called on Burma’s leaders to “put people’s lives first.”

The U.S. military commander of the Pacific, Adm. Timothy J. Keating, met yesterday with military leaders in Burma for the first time, examining maps of the cyclone-ravaged Irrawaddy Delta as the first flight of American disaster-aid arrived.

Adm. Keating and other U.S. military personnel “met some Burmese officials, including the deputy foreign minister” at Rangoon’s international airport, “and they gathered together and looked at maps,” a U.S. official said, asking to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak for attribution.

They discussed geographical features, logistics and the suffering of survivors on the stricken Irrawaddy River Delta, where more than 30,000 people were killed and about 40,000 were missing in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis.

The May 3 cyclone brought murderous rain, wind and tidal swells ashore from the Bay of Bengal onto the densely populated river delta southwest of Rangoon.

American troops unpacked 14 tons of supplies, described as including mosquito nets, blankets and water, from a C-130 U.S. military cargo plane in an operation dubbed “Joint Task Force Caring Response.” Burmese hauled the aid away in army trucks. No U.S. or other foreign officials were allowed to supervise its distribution.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) planned to fly two more C-130s loaded with emergency aid into Rangoon tomorrow.

Adm. Keating accompanied the relief supplies to personally negotiate with the ruling junta for a larger U.S. role in providing relief, the Associated Press reported.

U.S. Marine spokesman Lt. Col. Douglas Powell said there are 11,000 service members and four ships in the region for an annual military exercise, Cobra Gold, that could be harnessed to help the mercy mission.

Three U.S. Navy ships in the Bay of Bengal were sailing closer to Burma yesterday, ready to aid cyclone victims if they are given permission, Vice Adm. Doug Crowder told reporters in Jakarta, Indonesia.

“The aftermath [of the cyclone] is setting the stage to be just as deadly as the cyclone itself,” Pamela Sitko, World Vision International’s emergency communications officer for Asia and the Pacific, said yesterday.

“The death toll … could soon be approaching up to 100,000,” she said.

Dr. Peter Salama, chief of health for UNICEF, said, “We are already late.”

“We know that where the humanitarian response happens in days to a week, you can prevent the majority of excess deaths … but the delayed response for security or political reasons will lead to a high rate of death.”

Burma’s military regime, which has ruled the Texas-sized nation since a 1962 army coup, renaming it Myanmar, continues to reject most requests by foreign aid workers for entry visas, but it has issued 34 visas to U.N. personnel, in addition to some visas distributed to nongovernmental aid groups.

Frustrated foreign public-health officials say the government’s response has been inadequate 11 days after the cyclone killed more than 30,000 people and afflicted another 1.5 million.

Measles, diarrhea, pneumonia and other highly contagious diseases will soon race through the devastated area. Malaria already is the leading cause of death for Burmese children under 5, and health officials predict it will brew with a new vengeance as the displaced huddle on the high ground surrounded by pools of mosquito-infested waters.

Richard S. Ehrlich reported from Bangkok.  

Copyright 2008 News World Communications, Inc.  Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times.  This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization.  Visit the website at www.washingtontimes.com.

Questions

1. a) What did U.N. humanitarian officials say yesterday about relief to Burma?
b) How important does U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon say it is to get the proper aid into Burma?  Why?

2. How long ago did the cyclone hit Burma?

3. a) Where is the Irrawaddy River Delta?
b) How many people were killed in the Irawaddy River Delta? How many are still missing in that area?

4. The junta (military leaders) of Burma have not permitted any large scale foreign relief efforts into the country. What have they allowed the U.S. to do so far?

5. a) Why did Adm. Timothy J. Keating, the U.S. military commander in the Pacific accompany the relief supplies to Burma?
b) How many U.S. service members are available to help in relief efforts?

6. In what way will the junta’s delay in allowing foreign relief workers and supplies into Burma hurt survivors of the cyclone?

7. Do you think that the U.N. is doing all that can be done to help the survivors of Burma’s cyclone? Explain your answer.


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Background

NOTE:
-Burma is ruled by a military junta.  A junta is a government, especially a military one, that has taken power in a country by force and not by election.
-In 1989, Burma’s military junta changed the name of the country to “Union of Myanmar.” This controversial name change was not recognized by the opposition groups and many English-speaking nations.

THE GOVERNMENT OF BURMA:
Britain conquered Burma over a period of 62 years (1824-1886) and incorporated it into its Indian Empire. Burma was administered as a province of India until 1937 when it became a separate, self-governing colony; independence from the Commonwealth was attained in 1948. The military has ruled since 1962, when the army overthrew an elected government that had been buffeted by an economic crisis and a raft of ethnic insurgencies. During the next 26 years, General Ne Win’s military rule helped impoverish what had been one of Southeast Asia’s wealthiest countries.

The present junta, led by General Than Shwe, dramatically asserted its power in 1988, when the army opened fire on peaceful, student-led, pro-democracy protesters, killing an estimated 3,000 people.

Despite multiparty legislative elections in 1990 that resulted in the main opposition party – the National League for Democracy (NLD) – winning a landslide victory, the ruling junta refused to hand over power. NLD leader and Nobel Peace Prize recipient AUNG SAN SUU KYI, has been under house arrest on and off since 1989, the latest since 2003, where she remains virtually incommunicado. In February 2006, the junta extended her detention for another year. Her supporters, as well as all those who promote democracy and improved human rights, are routinely harassed or jailed. In August 2007, Burmese citizens angry over the government’s decision to double the price of fuel, began staging peaceful protests against the high prices. Buddhist monks were also involved and have spearheaded the largest challenge to the military junta since the failed uprising in 1988. (information taken from the CIA World FactBook and FreedomHouse.org)

(To read the complete background on the repressive Burmese government, go to FreedomHouse.org.)

Resources

Follow events in Burma at news.yahoo.com/fc/World/Myanmar.

For a map of Burma, go to worldatlas.com.

For general information on Burma, go to the CIA World FactBook at cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/index.html.