Tag Archives: WFP

Food aid cut as crops fail in Irrawaddy delta

Sea-level farmlands like these have not recovered from Cyclone Nargis

A week ago the United Nations humanitarian news agency ran a telling interview with a survivor of Cyclone Nargis, the storm that devastated Burma in May.

The interviewee, a 62-year-old farmer whose daughter-in-law and granddaughter were killed in the cyclone, said that although after the disaster some monks gave her paddy seed with which to replant her fields, the crop has failed.

“Even with fertilizer, the plants simply didn’t take or died,” Aye Yin told a reporter from the IRIN news service. “Some say it’s because of the salt water that inundated much of our fields. I don’t know. In any case, it doesn’t matter now.”

To get a little income, her grandson now collects empty water bottles from the streets and sells them to recyclers. The family has also received some assistance from the World Food Programme, but Aye Yin says that it isn’t enough.

“Now all we worry about is how we will survive the coming months,” she said. “I pray we won’t starve to death.”

She is going to have to pray harder. In November, the WFP is set to scale back its work in Burma’s delta, from general to “targeted” distributing of rice. Continue reading

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The generals’ mythical compromise

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While hundreds of persons remain detained or are missing in the aftermath of the uprising that gripped Burma in September, and new sporadic protests emerge [and here], its national newspapers have consisted of the usual phalanx of army officers forcing their largesse onto Buddhist monks and attending an all-important performing arts festival.

On Oct. 20, newspaper headlines declared that the new prime minister, Lt.-Gen. Thein Sein, had the day before watched a performance of the Suwannasama legend, one of ten allegories about previous lives of Gautama Buddha that is known to the majority of people in Burma by way of religious homilies and primary school lessons.

Suwannasama, the story goes, is a young man who lives with his blind parents in a forest. One day a king on a hunting trip accidentally shoots him dead, but a sympathetic deity brings him back to life. The king is remorseful and devotes himself to the family, thereafter being reborn in a higher plane of existence. The elderly mother and father even regain their sight.

The choice of drama appears to have been intended as a message that with a little bit of compromise everybody in Burma, like the play’s protagonists, can come out ahead. A long-winded feature article belabored the point, concluding that it would be in the interests of all to heed the folktale’s lessons. And on the days before and after there were other equally gripping reports of senior officers watching the play.

But the spirit of compromise has itself quickly turned to myth.

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Bickering about sanctions gets Burma nowhere

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The Hong Kong University this week hosted a talk on recent events in Burma by its dean of social sciences, who was billed as arguing “for new forms of intervention that take policy responses beyond the bankrupt strategies of sanctions imposed by Western states and constructive engagement undertaken by Asian states.”

Unfortunately, the professor gave no such argument. His comments, although well intended, foundered on the ground over which they were supposed to pass: sanctions don’t work; some kind of engagement is necessary. He pinned his hopes on a different sort of corporate involvement, while acknowledging that there exist no legal or institutional arrangements in Burma through which investors can be held accountable or upon which they can place their trust.

There is nothing new in any of that. Long before the United States first imposed a formal ban in 1997, arguments were raging about its practical use, given that Burma has few direct economic ties with the West. The disagreements have continued for the last decade. But genuine debate has long since given way to the tired reiterating of immoveable opinions.

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What the junta has lost

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The reports of car crashes, court cases and actresses’ haircuts that normally comprise the television broadcasts on Hong Kong’s aboveground trains last week gave way to the images seen all over the world of monks leading their people in prayer and protest at Burma’s military rulers.

In this city known for large and orderly public marches, people watched the inevitable bloodshed on Rangoon’s streets with both bewilderment and horror. A senior Buddhist leader, not known for his outspokenness, was moved to say that those responsible would surely go to hell — the killing of a monk being one of five sins from which there is no immediate redemption.

The facade of twinkling pagodas and tenacious development that the junta has tried to construct over the last two decades has come crashing down. No one inside the country, and no informed person outside, was fooled by that exterior; however, it had allowed the ruling council to go about its personal business with relatively little unwanted attention. No more.

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