Tag Archives: cyclone

Nargis can’t be exaggerated

Among the many responses to the unconscionable blockading of humanitarian assistance to victims of the cyclone that swept through Burma on May 10, perhaps the strangest, if not the most offensive, have been claims that journalists, diplomats and aid workers have exaggerated the death toll.

These sorts of charges invariably come up when large numbers of people are killed, disappeared or displaced. They have their origins sometimes in misunderstanding of what really goes on during crises of this sort, sometimes in enmity towards human rights or humanitarian goals. In any case, that they have come up again in the wretched aftermath of Cyclone Nargis is particularly odd.

Take an article that David Rieff wrote for the Los Angeles Times (Save us from the rescuers, May 18). For Rieff, exaggerated reports are all about numbers. And not just high numbers for that matter, but pretty much any numbers. If the numbers jump up suddenly, he reasons, they’re suspect. But even if they don’t, they’re still suspect, because those who make them up are prone to hyperbole and have vested interests.

What Rieff omits is that those ultimately responsible for the making of numbers, those who are most prone to hyperbole and those with the biggest vested interests are not the relief agencies against whom he rails or their proponents but the national authorities who obstruct the making of accurate tallies with which to obtain a better picture of what needs to be done. Continue reading

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What next for human rights abuse in Burma?

Burma’s military government has by now dramatically compounded the death and misery brought to its country with Cyclone Nargis. While carrying on with the same sort of games it has played against the global community for years, it has caused untold needless loss of life and greatly magnified people’s suffering today and tomorrow.

The regime has failed to open the door to sufficient foreign aid for the millions who need help. Its agents, whether under orders or of their own accord, have also obstructed local and overseas efforts to deliver relief and have misdirected their energies at futile exercises like the holding of the May 10 constitutional referendum and the arrests of state officers accused of not staying at their posts throughout the havoc of that day.

The authorities have been scrambling to get back on top and at least give the appearance of being in control. Once they’ve obtained a semblance of normalcy and official behavior becomes a little more coherent, human rights abuses directed against storm refugees and people in nearby areas especially will increase. Continue reading

Ships carrying 300 refugees sink in storm

RFA Burmese service has reported that the do-it-yourself cyclone response imposed on the already long-suffering people of Burma has claimed more lives. Around 4pm on May 19 four boats carrying Cyclone Nargis refugees from Bogalay sank in heavy rain and rough seas, the station has reported. One sank near Bhyonehmway Island, another two near Kantayar Pier and the other near Kaingtawwa village, it said.

The boats were believed to be carrying around 300 people and sacks of rice grain. The vessel that went down near Bhyonehmway Island had two Red Cross workers on board along with many former residents of Kyeinlonegyi village who had come to Bogalay for shelter and had been paid off by officials to leave. So far there are no figures on numbers of dead but the casualties are expected to be high. According to a local who spoke to RFA

“All these passengers were villagers who had left Bogalay having arrived as refugees there. Each household got 20,000 cash (about US$17) and eight pyi (about 2 litres) of rice grain then the military forced them to go back to their villages. Yesterday they got caught in a storm leaving Bogalay and the ships sank killing the lot.” Continue reading

Steal big, steal little

(Latest roundup of some Burmese language news reports on Cyclone Nargis)

(ลักเล็ก ขโมยใหญ่)

International groups in Burma are reportedly acknowledging that the army is “diverting” or “pilfering” aid (euphemisms for thieving) to Cyclone Nargis victims but are declining to give details for fear that they will be locked out completely.

Much of the concern is rightly with the army stealing big at the top end of the chain. But there will be theft at every level and among all agencies. An article by Yoma 3 has an example of stealing little in Kyimyindaing, just across the river from Rangoon, where village council officials are allegedly taking relief supplies being sent for homeless villagers. According to one,

“On the 14th, there was donating through the Red Cross for refugees at Dalechaung village. When the donors were present, there were 17 mosquito nets, yet when given by raffle to the villagers there were only 10. Where’d the other seven go? When the villagers investigated they found that the three-village chairman U Kyaw Soe took two, and fire brigade chief Aung Min, Tin Oo of USDA, then fireman Sein Hlaing took one each. The other [two] couldn’t be located.”

According to the villager, U Kyaw Soe is refusing to allow aid to be distributed to the villagers from outside without his involvement. A donor told Yoma 3 that 44 houses in Dalechaung were washed away as the river rose during the storm. The others are without rooves and the villagers are staying in an old rice warehouse but have been told that they will be thrown out. Maybe they have to go and vote.

To be sure, under the circumstances this is a very small theft, and the families of the officials may themselves be in need, but as this sort of behaviour will be repeated everywhere, the question for international aid groups is, if 10 out of 17 items delivered to the local level (from an unknown number originally) reach the people who really need them, is that enough? Continue reading

Preventable deaths, global consequences

(ความตายที่ป้องกันได้ ส่งผลกระเทือนทั่วโลก)

As predicted, survivors of Cyclone Nargis, which ravaged lower Burma on May 2 and 3, are no longer surviving.

Not only in the worst-hit delta areas but also in places close to Rangoon people are suffering from illnesses brought on by dirty water, lack of food and exposure to the elements. On Wednesday, a resident speaking to the Voice of America Burmese Service described the situation:

“In Thanlyin, 43-year-old Ko Aung Kyaw Moe died from cholera, as did a small girl in another village on the ninth. She was in the morgue. Also in Twente, I heard it of two girls. Then in Hpayagyigone village of Thanlyin an entire family of five died. And there’s around seven or eight sick people in the hospital.”

This account may or may not be fully accurate, but it is anyhow backed by many other similar reports from the disaster zones. Together they affirm that people are today dying of what can only be described as the most preventable of deaths — deaths due not to a lack of knowhow, resources or concern, but to an excess of obduracy in a military regime with a record of unremitting and shameless disregard for basic human rights and absolute minimum universal standards. Continue reading

Full, but empty

May 10 was supposed to be a big day for Burma’s military, the day that it legitimated itself through the ballot box. On that day, millions of eligible voters were supposed to come and freely express their approval of a constitution that would guarantee the army a quarter of seats in parliament and reaffirm its role as the leading state agency in a “discipline-flourishing” democracy, with a constitution of the generals, by the generals, for the generals.

That was the plan. In reality, the military’s legitimacy has been decided upon by something else entirely. Cyclone Nargis not only obliterated hundreds of coastal villages and with them prospects for a trouble-free poll, but also any chance that the regime can now or at any time in the future obtain the credibility at home or abroad that the referendum was intended to secure for it. Never mind the widespread claims of vote rigging, bullying and miscounting. That the referendum was held at all, that almost two weeks on cyclone victims have received no help and are dying in makeshift huts of cholera, that rivers and fields are still full of bloated corpses and that officials are selling or hoarding relief supplies delivered from well-meaning donors abroad all speak to the regime’s barbarity and its absolute want of legitimacy. Continue reading

Lies online, again

After being stuck in time since Cyclone Nargis hit, the New Light of Myanmar and cohorts are now going back online. Catch all the “news” that’s fit to print.

What about Weekly Eleven?