Friday, May 9, 2008

Myanmar After The Storm: Crisis Mismanagement

The military government of Myanmar should be congratulated. They are writing the ultimate case study of how to turn a disastrous situation into a complete catastrophe.

With more than 1 million of its people homeless, hungry, thirsty and in dire risk of infectious diseases, the military cabal that controls this country has said to the world, "Give us your money, your food, your water, and your medical supplies – but STAY OUT."

The United Nations World Food Programme took the unprecedented step of halting aid flights to Myanmar temporarily after the UN was forced to transfer the supplies into government warehouses. The country's leaders denied impounding the supplies, claiming that the government simply wanted to control the distribution of food itself. The UN has since announced that it will resume aid flights on Saturday.

Myanmar has been under pressure to allow aid workers into the country ever since the magnitude of the disaster became apparent. The Prime Minister of Thailand, Samak Sundaravej, canceled a planned visit to Myanmar earlier today. He had hoped to persuade the country's leaders to allow in aid workers, but decided that this would be a fool's errand.

Fortunately for the residents of the storm-ravaged Ayeyarwaddy Delta, the International Red Cross, the United Nations and many individual countries are sending money and supplies despite the attitude of the Myanmar government. Seven Red Cross workers have finally received visas to enter the country, and more are expected to follow soon.

According to Michael Annear, the regional disaster response coordinator for the Red Cross effort, 1.5 million Myanmar people have been left homeless by Cyclone Nargis; the estimated death toll has climbed to 66,000.

The relief efforts will not be helped by the weather. The town of Labutta, almost completely destroyed by the recent cyclone, is expected to receive an additional 16 inches of rain during the next week. Yangon will receive slightly less – about 14 inches in the next seven days.

The additional monsoonal rainfall will not only hamper relief efforts. It will exacerbate the spread of enteric diseases such as cholera and dysentery throughout the delta.

Let's hope that Myanmar's ruling military junta will realize before it's too late that they need outside assistance to cope with this disaster, and that they and will open the country's doors to those who are trying to help the Myanmar people to survive.

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