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disaster « Previous | |Next »
May 13, 2008

With the escalating humanitarian catastrophe in Burma there were suggestions that China could do something to influence the military junta and let some aid agencies in to do what they do. The other, much stickier question is whether some kind of forced intervention is called for in circumstances like these. The mess that is the Iraq war has pretty much cruelled those kinds of possibilities for the time being, so the world is left with diplomacy, which in the case of Burma means China.

Then before any political pressure on China had a chance to build, China suffered its own disaster in the form of an earthquake which, at the moment, seems to have killed at least ten thousand people in the Sichuan province. Tim Costello reckons it will be much easier to help in China since aid agencies already have bases there, and he doesn't seem to anticipate any political interference.

The media coverage of these events doesn't see any of our Asian neighbours falling over themselves to lend a hand. Everything is about the UN, George and Laura Bush hand-wringing despite their own failures after Katrina, and of course Australian contributions. Perhaps we need to have a re-think about where we stand in these international pickles. Do we offer our help as an Asian neighbour or as a Western nation with dubious links?

Meanwhile, horrendous things are happening to stupid numbers of people and these kinds of events are likely to become more frequent as the plate that hosts Australia inches north. I thought geological time was supposed to be bigger than this? Maybe increased exposure to these kinds of things will generate compassion fatigue and we'll become inured to footage of dead people lying in the streets and floating in the waterways of our nearest neighbours?

At the moment, we can't know since media coverage is too limited to get the kind of public response we saw with the tsunami, when the extent of Australians' generosity surprised everyone. For a country like Burma where the population exists to serve the military it's self-defeating to let the population die, and self-defeating to let foreigners dole out the goodies. We've yet to see whether China faces the same dilemma. It could very well prove to be a bridge for the whole region, Tibet notwithstanding.

| Posted by Lyn at 5:27 PM | | Comments (2)


This is from a Burmese aid worker courtesy of Eureka Street:

Today I returned from one of the areas most affected by the cyclone. Nearly 30,000 people here met a watery grave. In Kyalatt, Phaypon, Bogala and the villages around, thousands perished ... People do not have drinking water and there is no food. Children bite at coconut shells. Decaying debris lies in the waterlogged terrain. Dead animals are spread out near the debris. The people have neither the energy nor the will to bury them. There are many refugees, living in roofless churches and monasteries. Help has not reached them. We are doing what is possible in Burma. During the last two days we have been reaching out to the starving people. With the price of diesel skyrocketing and fuel not available, transport is still a problem. There is still no electricity or water even in Yangon.

It's unimaginable. We see the pictures but don't smell the smells or hear the sounds. Let alone feel the huge sense of helplessness the aid workers must feel.