Friday, 9 May 2008

Six Days in Burma - A natural tragedy becomes a manmade one

Six days.

Six days since Cyclone Nargis hit the Irrawaddy delta region of Burma. Six days since a country long mistreated by tyrannical man got an ill-deserved bashing by awesome nature.

Buddha, as The Times put it, is weeping.

The prognosis is bad. 65,000 dead, possibly in excess of 100,000. More than 1 million homeless, battling to stave off hunger and disease whilst living amidst debris and bloated bodies. Chloera may yet kill more than the cyclone.

And yet the Junta are, predicatably, intransigent. They want aid but not aid workers. The Burmese embassy in Bangkok is closed until Tuesday. The WFP has halted aid drops after authorities impounded two deliveries. 60 Bangladeshi doctors were turned away. All proof that the Junta live in a detached, self-serving world, one where foreign help is a threat to their grip on power - not a lifeline for millions of destitute.

The question now: what should the world do? Shrug our shoulders and allow the Burmese authorities to snub foreign aid? Let people die? Or ignore soverignety and drop aid, regardless of international borders? Would it even be safe to do so? Would aid fall into the hands of the Junta? Will it be used to secure votes in the May 10th referundum, which despite the tragedy is going ahead in all but 47 of the worst-hit townships? Or should aid be chanelled through close allies of the military government, the Chinese, Indians and Thais?

Burma, like Darfur and the Middle East, is shaping up to be one of the biggest tests for modern morality. I am in the UK for a two week visit, and have been touched by the amount of press coverage, charitable donations and emotive indignation this has stirred. More, I cant help but wonder, than in neighbouring Thailand?).

We have the will to avert a natural catastrophe from worsening - despite the General's obstinence there must be a way.