Saturday 10 May 2008
Today, I read that a representative of the UN has just announced an end to the delivery of foodstuffs by the World Food Programme (WFP) into Myanmar (the name given by the military regime to what was previously known as Burma). This is due to the regime’s confiscation of 38 tons of energetic biscuits.
Nine days ago, when the cyclone hit the country, I remember the extremely rapid increase in the body count. First, just over 300 people were announced dead. Three hours later it was 20,000 people. And now, estimates range from 40,000 to 100,000 dead - the regime will of course keep the official number quiet. This is the most catastrophic death-toll caused by a natural disaster since Christmas 2005.
And yet, it is particularly problematic since the government of Myanmar, held together by the firm hand of Than Shwe, is a brutal dictatorship with little consideration for its population. The seizing of the cargos which were destined to 100,000 people in dire need of water and food is a terrible sign of this. Estimations range from 1.3 million to 1.9 million people who are currently suffering the consequences of the cyclone. Living in Myanmar makes matters worst.
It seems unlikely that the military dictatorship will accept humanitarian aid for two reasons. Firstly, this aid is clearly going to be political – the UN and humanitarian NGOs are likely to use this occasion to report more accurately on a country that is usually extremely secretive. Second, seeing that the regime has decided it would be a better distributor than the ‘experts’, it will persist in its choice of distributing food to people who are close to the regime. Our readers should be reminded that the regime is responsible for the massacre of the Karen, a ethnic minority of Burma which is now being exterminated in silence.
Myanmar is a country without optimism. I will keep you posted in the next few days.
"Don't hate the media. Become the media" Jello Biafra