In the days since Cyclone Nargis passed through Burma on May 2 and 3, bringing a tidal surge with it to the delta region that has literally swept away hundreds of villages, it has become painfully obvious that the country’s government is completely unable to deal with what has happened.
In the immediate aftermath of the storm, local residents in somewhat affected areas, including Rangoon, banded together to do everything from clearing roads to distributing emergency supplies of water and food. In many rural areas, monks have taken charge as thousands of people have converged on monasteries, which are among the sturdiest buildings and which often have stockpiles of donated wood, food and other necessities.
The lack of any official presence in these parts has been striking in a country where government agents, in and out of uniform, are normally omnipresent. But the absurdity, ineptitude and persistent greed that characterize so much administrative conduct in Burma have in some areas become most apparent after soldiers, police and bureaucrats have finally turned up.
In one part of Rangoon, a fistfight reportedly broke out when outraged locals saw that water tankers were delivering supplies to the homes of council members and military officers but not to anyone else.
At Pazundaung, a unit of soldiers went to nearby houses to ask for machetes with which to cut fallen trees. Their commander demanded a car to oversee his men and shopkeepers were called upon to give chains with which to drag timber from the road.
In the worst affected areas, flattened villages and ruined crops are still littered with bodies and not a single person has turned up to assist. Many places, such as Laputta, remain partly submerged and the numbers of the dead and missing not yet entered into the daily rising tallies.
So where are Burma’s neighbors? Not long after the storm struck, the Association of Southeast Asian Nation’s secretary-general, the former foreign minister of Thailand, Surin Pitsuwan, called on the other nine member states to give generously, and hoped the same of its partners, which include heavyweights China, South Korea and Japan. (See news of his latest statement.)
His appeal seems to have fallen on deaf ears. Continue reading