Will Burma (Myanmar) let world in for aid?
The junta sought international assistance quickly but has been slow to give visas to foreign aid workers.
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Aside from issuing appeals, the government's response to the disaster has been difficult to gauge, given broken communication lines. Some news reports suggested that it was slow and inadequate, with very few soldiers dispersed to provide relief. Such a poor showing, if true, would contrast sharply with the Army's quick outpouring against demonstrations.Skip to next paragraph
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As the storm swelled on Friday night, state television broadcast warnings of tidal waves and heavy winds, but provided no further instructions for seeking shelter, the Associated Press reported.
First lady Laura Bush, a leading international critic of Burma's military regime, which has ruled since 1962, was among the most outspoken critics of the Army-backed government's response. "Although they were aware of the threat, Burma's state-run media failed to issue a timely warning to citizens in the storm's path," Mrs. Bush said at a press conference on Monday.
President Bush urged Burma to allow US damage assessment teams into the country while at a ceremony Tuesday, where he signed legislation to give a Congressional Gold Medal to Ms. Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest in Burma.
While that honor is unlikely to win favor from Burma's government, emergency assistance sometimes helps improve ties between unfriendly states.
"[Disaster diplomacy] can have an enormous impact. This is a way to open up relations with countries you don't have good relations with. It's a way to present good will and good intentions," says Charles Perry, executive vice president of the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, a research organization in Cambridge, Mass.
But he cautions that diplomacy only builds dividends in the long run, if humanitarian aid programs are sustained for a matter of years, not months.
The situation in Burma is an opportunity for the US, if it commits to a longer term course of relief and dialogue, he says, adding, "It's an opportunity for the generals to open up as well."
But government officials in Burma have invited further criticism by refusing to call off a controversial referendum on a new constitution originally scheduled for May 10. Instead they announced on Tuesday that it would be postponed until May 24 in 47 townships hard hit by the disaster. Critics, who have already blasted the referendum as a sham designed to solidify the military's rule, say the government should focus on relief instead.
Despite growing critiques, the international community and neighboring countries moved quickly to offer support to victims (see below). With aid lining up, relief agencies said they are confident the ruling government will give the final green light to international aid, but hoped it would come soon.
"The sooner the better," says Lom.
Burma’s $10 million in aid
Cyclone Nargin’s path of destruction through the Irrawaddy Delta has prompted offers of outside help for the people of Burma (Myanmar).
Governments and relief agencies around the world have promised aid and technical support, including the following:
• United Nations has assembled a five-member UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination team in Bangkok, Thailand. www.ochaonline.un.org
• International Red Cross relief workers are distributing drinking water, clothing, food, plastic tarpaulins, and hygiene kits. www.icrc.org
• The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ emergency disaster fund released about $189,000. www.ifrc.org
• Myanmar Red Cross The government said it would allocate 5 billion kyats ($4.5 million) for relief and resettlement work. The organization is also distributing insecticide-treated bed nets to help prevent malaria.
• The American Red Cross: It has pledged $100,000 in funds and supplies. www.redcross.org
• World Vision, Australia: The Christian relief group pledged A$3 million ($2.8 million) for the first month of relief operations in Myanmar. About 25 health specialists are being sent to boost efforts of 600 permanent staff. www.worldvision.com.au
• France €200,000 ($292,000) in aid
• Spain €500,000 ($731,000) to the World Food Program for Myanmar.
• Indonesia: $1 million, in additional to send food, medicine, and other aid.
• U.S. $250,000 in aid