The Suffering Continues in Burma

New figures from the UN have the death toll, possibly, at 216,000.

The junta still hasn’t allowed any aid workers into the country. They allowed two plane loads of food and medicines in but then immediately commandeered everything. Now the US refuses to send anymore aid, unless aid workers are allowed to accompany the materials and see to their distribution.

A relief team leader had this to say about sending material into Burma without aid workers to look after it. “The dictators of Burma continue to directly attack their own people and in the case of the cyclone provided no warning, nor did they provide any immediate response to help people in need. An ongoing challenge will be to ensure that relief materials and funds go to those in need and are not diverted by the dictators. We will be sending help through the network of individuals and churches that we have now in Burma and we will be relying on them to account for and report on the relief assistance.”

Another aid worker said it even more succinctly. “You can be sure that only pennies on the dollar will be given to the people.”

Leading general, Than Shwe (who should die slowly), hasn’t been seen since last Saturday. He even refused to meet with or even talk with the UN by telephone. In the face of all of the insanity involved in refusing aid, the junta marches forward, determined to hold a referendum, the result of which will basically keep the current government in power in perpetuity.

Far from the watchful eye of the world’s media and aid workers seeking to help cyclone victims in and around Yangon, the SPDC (Burmese army) launched attacks against the Karen ethnic minority people. They burned homes, destroyed villages and attacked refugee camps (IDPs).

I tried to imagine something more horrible than launching a military strike against people in the wake of such a terrible disaster, but I couldn’t.

When asked what steps the junta had taken to help their own people, an aid worker had this to say. “There is no plan of action internally. There is limited infrastructure. The military is working only limitedly. The constitution will be voted on next week and must be monitored by force. There was not even a forklift at the international airport to take off initial supplies from Thailand.”

Another aid worker explained that so much of the suffering was avoidable. “The military are making this so much worse. This is a textbook example of how not to respond to a disaster. They had 48 hour warning from India, yet they didn’t warn the people, especially not in the Irrawaddy Delta, the worst hit area. Now they are delaying the vitally needed aid agency workers by placing conditions on their work and not giving them unfettered access to the worst affected areas.”

France has demanded that the UN enact a byline which gives the UN the right to enter a country and render aid, without permission, if there is a major catastrophe and the local government refuses aid. Basically, the UN has the right to enter Burma and save lives in spite of the wishes of the generals.

I know from my own experience with 911 that in a crisis, more good people surface than bad. People forget their former problems with each other and they help, they simply help because it is the right thing to do. Probably 90% of the communities who donated food, money, clothes, and medicine to New York were poorer than New York. But they didn’t care. When a catastrophe effects others, you need only ask yourself, “What if that were my family, my wife, my children? What would I want others to do for me?” The answers are clear. You have to help.

In the last forty-eight hours I have received a steady stream of emails from people asking if I could get them into Burma and asking where and how to volunteer or send money. God bless them all.

Strong words of support have come from some unlooked for corners. China, who vetoed the UN proposal for forced aid in Darfur and Burma, is now asking the generals to open up and accept western aid.

George Bush, who I wouldn’t normally think of as a humanitarian said, in a quote in the Economic Times, “Our message is to the military rulers: Let the US come to help you, help the people. Our hearts go out to the people of Burma. We want to help them deal with this terrible disaster. At the same time, of course, we want them to live in a free society,”

To my knowledge, this has been the first major statement, by a US politician which hints at forcing the junta to allow democracy in Burma.

An article in the Irish Times said, “President Bush urged Burma to allow US damage assessment teams into the country while at a ceremony Tuesday, where he signed legislation to give a Congressional Gold Medal to Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest in Burma.”

Look at your watch, wait five minutes. Someone just died in Burma. Most of the deaths which will happen over the next two weeks will be completely preventable if aid could get in. One aid organization said they are trying to partner with organization already inside the country. Even aid organizations with permanent offices in Yangon are being denied additional visas for more staff. And of course, there is the issue of planes cargos being confiscated when it arrives in Burma.

“India & ASEAN are getting some in, maybe China, so far. The SPDC will skim what it can.” Explained one aid worker yesterday. But now it looks like even the trickle of aid coming from Asia is drying up.

If people in USA want to send money, where should they send it?

“So far I’ve recommended Mercy Corps here in Portland, they are v. effective in these situations, and US Campaign for Burma has a donate button on their site. World Vision is in country already but have religious baggage, also Save the Children is operating there already.” This was a quote from a noted Burma author. Luckily the Junta don’t read books, so she can maintain her anonymity.

Commenting on the impact of the cyclone, she said, “Mangrove destruction made this much worse, also siltation of Irrawaddy due to deforestation.”

The generals are known for selling off Burma’s timber, absolutely wrecking the environment. “The Generals are safe and sound in Naypyidaw.”

Last year, the incredibly superstitious junta moved the capital from Yangon to Naypyidaw. “The date for the referendum was probably set by astrologers, so they are locked into that.” She went on to speculate, “But this could affect army unity — many have family in the Delta.”

It is highly likely that a very small percentage of Burmese soldiers actually support the junta. Most are conscripts and are themselves victims of brutality and abuse at the hands of their superiors. And of course, relief aid is not reaching the families of privates, only top ranking officers.

“We are now facing a health disaster with severe risk of malaria, cholera and other water born diseases. Over a million people spent their seventh night without good water or shelter last night.”

The long term effects of this disaster will be a staggering death toll.

Please, say a prayer for the people of Burma.

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