19 May 2008

Sorry Myanmar. You're On Your Own.

The Myanmar typhoon and Ch1na earthquake disasters happened back to back. Both sufferred massive damages and loss of lives.

Yet rescue and relief efforts on both sides were starkly different.

We applaud the Ch1nese side pulling all stops to save as many people as possible. Even the blood banks had to stop taking donors because the blood bank is full.

Tents, donations, volunteers both foreign and local were pouring in without even a bat of an eyelid.

Yet in Myanmar, we see a Gahmen who seemingly isn't even remotely interested to resolve this crisis in an urgent manner. Do they have something else more important to attend to than the 40,000 people dead and 2 million homeless survivors and counting?

South China Morning Post's journalist Simon Parry wrote an article of him witnessing how the aid was chucked aside once it was out of sight from the outside world.

Aid For Myanmar Waylaid Just 3km Across The Border

Convoy is met by sleepy officials in no rush to help cyclone victims

Simon Parry, May 13, 2008   

Hong Kong journalist Simon Parry crossed the border into Myanmar with the first overland aid convoy for cyclone victims - what he then witnessed appalled him

It was supposed to be a moment of hope, a breakthrough in the troubled international aid effort for the hundreds of thousands of Myanmese victims of Cyclone Nargis.

Instead, I watched as the delivery of the first overland aid convoy was received with stark indifference by military officials either ill prepared or uninterested in speeding the aid to those in need.

At lunchtime on Saturday - seven days after Nargis killed an estimated 100,000-plus people and left up to 1.5 million homeless - Myanmar's junta finally allowed in two UN refugee agency (UNHCR) trucks carrying 20 tonnes of tents and plastic sheeting, enough to shelter 10,000 victims.

It had taken five days of pleading and cajoling. But at 1pm, to the undisguised delight of the aid workers, the aid was finally allowed in from Mae Sot in northern Thailand on condition no aid workers were on board.

Once across the border, the precious cargo was in military hands. UN staff prayed it would be rushed to the stricken Irrawaddy Delta where every hour is costing lives.

Sharing some of their hope, I defied a ban on foreign journalists and crossed into Myanmar with the trucks. What I witnessed was a debacle. The moment the trucks were out of sight of the border post, they were directed off the road and along a 3km dusty track to a semi-deserted monastery and pagoda.

As our taxi bumped along behind the trucks, I still expected to find army trucks and ranks of troops ready to unload the cargo and take it to the cyclone-hit communities. Instead, the cargo was received by a languid young major who was with only two other soldiers. I watched as they waved the trucks to parking bays without looking to see what they contained, then ambled back to a reception area to resume the card-playing and tea-drinking that had been interrupted. I watched to see when the relief operation would begin. But nothing happened - just elderly monks and casually dressed government officials wandering around, seeming to ignore the UN trucks.

My presence had been noticed, so I walked up and introduced myself and congratulated them on securing the aid. When would it be leaving for the disaster area, I asked? The major, Myat Hdut Aye, explained that nothing more would be happening for the time being. "It will have to wait here until tomorrow," he said, gesturing to the trucks. "Then it will be transferred by road to Yangon. We can't do anything more today."

I asked gently why it wasn't being moved immediately. Silent for a moment, he blushed before replying: "We need a big truck to carry all these things and it has to come from Yangon." So when would it arrive? He looked a little more uncomfortable and said: "We hope it will be here in time to leave early tomorrow."

As we chatted, a senior officer, who had been sleeping inside, came to the doorstep and began quizzing my driver-interpreter: "Who is this man? Is he with the UNHCR? Why is he taking pictures?"

We shook hands, retreated to our car and drove quickly back to Myawadi, across the Moei River from Mae Sot, where it was soon apparent why so little attention was being given to the arrival of the aid.

Three kilometres from the idle aid trucks, scores of rifle-toting soldiers were patrolling five polling stations for the referendum on constitutional reform - held in spite of international entreaties to delay the vote and focus on cyclone relief.

Those in Myawadi brave enough to risk arrest by speaking to me said the heavy army presence was meant to intimidate people into voting "yes", in line with the junta's wishes.

"Everyone is watched and anyone who votes `no' has been told they will be thrown in prison on Sunday morning," a market trader said.

Except for the soldiers, the polling stations were deserted.

"There are thousands of soldiers in Myawadi and many military trucks that could transport the aid," a 51-year-old restaurant owner told me bitterly. "But this regime does not care about saving people. They only care about saving themselves."

The town may have escaped the cyclone's wrath, but the storm's impact was being felt here and across the country. "People are too hungry to even think about politics," another man said. "The price of rice has more than doubled in the past week and cooking oil has trebled."

The dismal reception for the aid convoy was in stark contrast to the hard work and optimism displayed on the Thai side of the border.

"Officials in Burma have insisted on certain things and we are trying to do things the way they want us to," the UNHCR's Vivian Tan said, avoiding any criticism of the junta. "For us, the most important thing is to get the material in and to distribute it to the people who need it as quickly as we can."

Little could Ms Tan or her colleagues have imagined that by nightfall on another day of death and misery for victims of Nargis, the precious cargo would be grounded just a few kilometres away.

- South China Morning Post (13 May 2008)

Aid handed over to villagers in
heavily publicised efforts was then
taken back and shipped away.

- According to internal reports of the junta's actions.

Source: South China Morning Post (16 May 2008)

I mentioned earlier how relief volunteers were wrangling with the Gahmen to get a visa so that they can come in and help the victims. It just baffles me why they are refusing help at a time when they themselves are struggling to control the crisis.

Looking across the border and we see Ch1na whom themselves have the resources to resolve this crisis on their own and yet you see them humbly granting visas to foreign aid workers and graciously opening up their borders to allow even Ta1wan airplanes to land directly in Chengdu, delivering aid.

Lives are at stake here and every second's delay mean the lost of a life or two or 27 that would otherwise been saved. This is the time to put aside differences and get down to what is really important here. Anyone still protesting over T1bet now?

It breaks my heart to see the Myanmar Gahmen dragging their feet on this, as if this is exactly their deliberate scheme to let their people die. There were even reports of the Gahmen hindering the relief efforts of their own monks. Yes, the very same monks that were in the stand-off against the Gahmen during the last riot.

Can't the Gahmen just set aside their differences for now and save the people first?

I can see that the Gahmen is pulling all the stops to prevent the monks from gaining even more popularity with the people with their relief efforts. The Gahmen is already very unpopular now and I was wondering if the Gahmen were to put in every effort to resolve this, wouldn't that allow them to earn back some brownie points from the people?

Mark my words. After this episode, the Junta is going down for sure, as the people will uprise against them. It is only a matter of time.

Since the typhoon, many bloggers have sprung entries asking all to donate to the relief fund.

I am sorry but I am going to pass on this one as I cannot be assured that my aid will reach the hands of the people.

I smell golden taps and peanuts on this one.

Yes, my decision may be a cold one but think about it. If there is a risk of my donation not getting to the destination, then wouldn't it be better if I channel it to Ch1na quake relief instead? This is an either or kind of a situation.

IMHO, the Myanmar Gahmen is refusing to to help themselves. Then why should I help?

Sorry, Myanman. You're on your own.

p.s. I think ASEAN should be abolished because I have yet to see them actually do anything nor produce any results. All I see is a bunch of people from each country sitting around making a lot of noise but doing nothing.

- Voxeros

1. THB left...
Sunday, 18 May 2008 12:09 pm ::
All the video footage, pains me and make me wanna go over to disaster hit areas. We cant really help unless affected places are willing to accept it. They won't be appreciative if help is forced.

2. merryfeet left...
Sunday, 18 May 2008 3:46 pm
Agree with you. I haven't donated anything for the Myanmar cause. I am just afraid (if not already sure) that the officials are going to use such cash donations for their own political uses. Even if it goes through red cross here: Have been donating clothes at the newton collection point though. The junta will face their music in due course. ):

3. Chocolate gal left...
Sunday, 18 May 2008 11:08 pm
the govt is just trying to force the ppl to support them, not understanding (maybe they do but just choose to ignore it) that they are just pushing them farther away.. A govt who don't loves its ppl but only power..

4. JayWalk left...
Monday, 19 May 2008 7:29 am :: 
THB: True. No point forcing even if the people are dying by the second.

Merryfeet: I think even the old clothes may end up in the wrong place.

Jaschocolate: I think the junta do understand it's people and is abusing this knowledge for their own selfish gains.

5. Faith left...
Monday, 19 May 2008 11:04 am
I agree with you! That govt makes me seriously sick! And the poor starving kids will die in a matter of days if aid and food don't reach them soon. Bastards, idiots, whatever you call them. Asean, what the hell are they doing? Nothing! Nothing! Just sitting on their fat asses!

6. JayWalk left...
Monday, 19 May 2008 5:16 pm :: 
Faith: On one hand, this is yet another time where we see the toothless-ness of ASEAN which makes you wonder what does it really do? On the other hand, own domestic problem should be resolve internally instead of other people trying to meddle from outside.

I hope that Myanmar people can figure it out soon.

7. Faith left...
Tuesday, 20 May 2008 9:21 am
Well to a certain extent countries should try to solve their own problems but when a country is incapable and have idiots in the govt then, countries have to step in to help especially when children and kids are starving. Sorry, maybe it is my line of work that makes me feel a lot more sorry for kids and children. But good news, asean managed to work out with Myanmar and aid is going in. I pray and hope that the aid will really go to the poor children.

8. JayWalk left...
Tuesday, 20 May 2008 10:08 am :: 
Faith: My only fear is that the junta final "relent" is just for show as there has been report where aid given to the villages were taken back after all the foreign spotlight has shifted to other places.

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