The United Nations, nonprofit charities and the nations of the world are knocking on Myanmar's door. They have warships filled with food and experts who can help supply clean water, treat the sick and rebuild homes.
Myanmar's repressive military junta is showing its true stripes. By refusing full access it is literally dooming thousands perhaps hundreds of thousands, perhaps more than a million to starvation, disease and destitution.
"The United Nations said it would suspend all further aid shipments for survivors of last week's devastating cyclone in Myanmar after the country's ruling junta seized all aid material that had been flown in so far," the Wall Street Journal reported this morning. "The U.N.'s World Food Program 'has no choice' but to suspend further shipments until the matter is resolved, WFP spokesman Paul Risley said. All 'the food aid and equipment that we managed to get in has been confiscated,' he said, including 38 tons of high-energy biscuits."
Tropical Cyclone Nargis swept through Myanmar a week ago, killing more than 23,000 people perhaps as many as 100,000. At least 1.5 million, according to the New York Times, are in danger of sickness and death from dirty water and the prospect of epidemic disease. The nation's second rice crop of the season has likely been decimated. Nearly 2,000 square miles of land remain underwater that's a bigger area than Delaware or Rhode Island.
The cyclone is likely to be the deadliest since 1991, when more than 138,000 died in Bangladesh. Both storms formed over the Bay of Bengal. The staggering toll in Bangladesh prompted it to improve its early warning and evacuation plans, which were credited with saving thousands of lives when Cyclone Sidr made landfall in November. Both Sidr and Nargis were Category 4 storms.
Myanmar's repressive military has so far showed little sign that it might change its ways to better protect its people.
As much as two feet of rain fell in some parts of the low-lying Irrawaddy River Delta region, according to NASA estimates. The massive flooding and tidal wave was as deadly, if not more so, than the hurricane itself. The death toll could approach that of the Asian tsunami. It's at least brought that disaster to mind. There again, affected nations embraced, even if reluctantly, international aid.
The military junta plans a referendum in dry parts of the country Saturday that could cement its rule, critics say. The international community has condemned its policies for decades, and President and Laura Bush have been particularly vocal about recently.
Earlier this week, the U.N. dismissed the idea of forcing its way into the country to protect its citizens, something that is possible under international law. It may be time to reconsider.
Adding violence to the volatile mix ought to be a last resort, of course. But thousands of people are in critical danger.
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