Beggars cannot be choosers. Or could they? And that too when faced with one of the greatest disasters humanity has ever witnessed? The government of Myanmar certainly thinks this is possible and has gone all the way to prove it. With the entire country ravaged and in a dire need for aid, the despotic government seems to have different priorities. Callous and uncaring about the horrendous condition of the citizens, it has shockingly seized the shipment containing UN Food aid for those millions of homeless victims of the cyclone Nargis. It declared that it was ready to accept medicines and food but not foreign aid workers, who are actually indispensable for the immediate dispatch of aid. This kind of a step, at a time when the country is grappling with the threat of an epidemic breaking out and severe shortage of food and drinking water, is completely uncalled for. From confiscating the equipment to halting the clearance of supplies at warehouses and tarmacs, the junta government has done whatever it takes to clearing the stage for holding the referendum which tops its lists of concerns. Naturally, this action has aroused widespread criticism and condemnation. However, all this doesn’t seem to deter the dictatorship from pursuing its intentions with complete disregard for the common good. Thankfully, the latest news has revealed that some of the aid workers have been allowed and aid is beginning to dribble in.
If the Burmese citizens thought that the cyclone had taken whatever they had, they would have been further horror struck to know that the worst was still to come. With poor aid distribution and several dead bodies unattended to, the military dictatorship used this situation to enforce the constitutional referendum formulated to reinstate the military order in Myanmar (Burma). Thus, in the course of it, they barred aid distributors and local donors from doing their work. How well a country copes with a natural disaster completely depends on how deftly and efficiently it handles the distribution of aid. But what can one say when the government shows disregard for everything but its objectives? Reports also claimed that there were names of military generals on the aid boxes for propaganda purposes. The homeless who sought shelter in schools were evicted from those places and the schools were turned into polling booths. Not surprisingly, people did vote, not even conscious of what they were voting for, but with a fear of facing the wrath of the military government. Villagers in and around Yangon could not even muster the courage to speak about the elections. The stench of dead bodies still lingers in the devastated Irrawaddy delta and cholera, diarrhoea are on the verge of breaking out if clean water is not provided. With phone lines down, prices soaring high and food supply becoming scarce, the population now suffers the oppression of the government finding no respite from their misery.
Myanmar since the last fourteen years has been under the iron-fisted rule of the military government, with military generals heading significant ministries. It is a closed country which allows very little foreign support and exercises strict censorship of media. However, the tropical cyclone that struck the country on May 2, 2008, leaving millions homeless and more than 22,000 dead had forced the government to open up for aid. Having already confronted international opprobrium for suppressing the peaceful uprising by monks last year and sanctions imposed by the US and other western nations with the UN’s recommendation, Myanmar’s political situation has been further deteriorating. The opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi who was kept under house arrest for several years too has been affected by the cyclone and her house was reported to have been damaged. The cyclone seems to have shaken one and all but failed to uproot the determination of the repressive rulers.
The frequent punctuations in the speedy dispatch of aid by this government not only heightens the tragic effects of the cyclone but leaves very little scope for hope amongst the Burmese. In such a case the storm is not the only disaster, but an even more catastrophic man made disaster is to take place due to the junta’s actions in Burma.
Rohini Ram Mohan
[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tza/2463807874/]